Father Dominic often reminds his viewers, "Remember,
it's bread. It's going to forgive you."
Photo by Gregg Goldman
Its a warm July evening at St. Bede Abbey, a Benedictine monastery just west of
Peru, Illinois, and the sound of clanging pots is coming from the abbeys kitchen.
Inside, Father Dominic Garramone, O.S.B., is getting ready to bake bread. Special occasion?
Not really. Its Thursday nightbaking night.
Tonight hes making 14 loaves of bread for the upcoming Medieval Faire at St. Bede
Academy. The numerous loaves of bread already in the freezer show this is not the first
night he has devoted to the task.
Sound like the life of a television host? Well, it does if youre the host of PBSs
popular show Breaking Bread With Father Dominic (www.breaking-bread.com).
St. Anthony Messenger spent an evening working in the kitchen with Father Dominic
and discussing baking, monastic life and the pros and cons of starring in a TV show.
Beginning the Process
As we talk, Father Dominic gathers up the necessary ingredients for the bread and begins
placing them in the kitchens industrial-size mixer. As he works, he offers tips and
instructions to this novice breadmaker, such as the proper temperature of the water to
avoid killing the yeast, and one of his favorite sayings: Remember, its bread.
Its going to forgive you.
He doesnt work from a recipe; hes done this too many times. He amends the
ingredients as he goes, depending on what he thinks the dough needs.
After the dough is mixed, it is set aside to rise.
Before heading off to Evening Prayer, he shows off the many tools he usesrolling
pins, bread boards, etc.that have been handmade by his father, Ron.
A Love for Baking
It was his mother, Mary, though, who instilled his love for baking. I grew up in
a house where baking was the norm. Thats just what people did. His mom and
Grandma Tootsie, who lived with the family, were excellent bakers. They always included
him and his two brothers and two sisters in their baking.
But Father Dominics first real experience with the joys of baking came in the fifth
grade at Sacred Heart School in Peoria, Illinois. The students had to make a type of food
from a French-speaking country. When Father Dominic told his mom about the assignment,
she told him to make French breadnot the easiest task for a fifth-grader.
Most people would think maybe French toast is easy, french fries, he says. But
[making French bread] was no big deal for her.
Father Dominic made two loaves of French bread for his class, and fell in love not only
with the process of breadmaking, but also with the payoff.
The payoff was huge, because when it was all over, there was nothing but crumbs, he
recalls. When youre in fifth grade, thats a big deal if people like your
stuff. So to have somebody eat all your breadit was a good experience.
He began baking semi-regularly throughout high school and college. But it was when he
joined the monastery that he became more serious about baking.
For one thing, I planted an herb garden and youve got to do something with
that produce, so I started developing recipes, he says. Then community members
would say, My mom used to make X, or my grandma made the best whatever, and
the recipe would show up in my mailbox. So I kind of became a community baker by accident.
Being known as a baker can also be a challenge, though. Youre expected to
have this additional level of appreciation, love for and knowledge of the Eucharist, which
I try to make real in myself. It does make me go deeper into the text.
One example, he says, is the parable of the yeast. He points out that yeast was not a
popular symbol for the Jews. It was a symbol of corruption. Pure bread for the Jews was
In the parable of the yeast, Jesus makes the yeast a positive thing, saying that the kingdom
of God is like yeast.
In other words, the kingdom of God is like this secret influence that you think
is negative, but I think is positive. [Jesus] is challenging his readers: If the things
you think are evil and bad are to be excluded, maybe you need to look at it a little differently.
That may be exactly what brings life, Father Dominic says.
So to the people who say, We dont want that kind of music in our Church, or We
dont want that kind of theology, Jesus may be challenging us saying, That
may be exactly what is going to bring life to the Church.
An Act of Reintegration
After the dough has risen, Father Dominic takes it in his hands and demonstrates the proper
technique for kneading the doughpush, fold and turn. Soon he turns the task over
to this author.
This physical aspect of baking, he saysalong with the spiritual and mental aspectsare
actually all an act of reintegration.
If I make a loaf of bread and Im intentional about it, I have to use all of
my senses. My mind, my body, my spirit get hijacked for a joyride, he says.
As we are working, one of Father Dominics students enters the kitchen. On Thursday
evenings its not uncommon to see both current and former students gather in the kitchen
with Father Dominic. Two alums of St. Bede Academy will join us before the evening is over.
Father Dominics journey to the monastery was by no means a joyride. It was, instead,
a long, methodical process.
He says he first felt called to religious life around his junior year in high school.
But When youre a junior in high school, youre not ready to say that out
loud, he recalls. That takes some real courage. Im like, O.K.,
God, get me a date to prom and well talk about this later.
Around that time, Father Placid Hatfield, O.S.B., a member of St. Bedes community
brought Dominic to the abbey for a visit. On his second visit, Father Dominic recalls,
he knew it was the place for him.
He wanted to make sure he wasnt just feeling drawn toward religious life, though,
simply because he had been immersed in Catholic culture throughout his life and schooling.
He enrolled in Illinois Wesleyan University, where he majored in theater. But during his
sophomore year, he once again began feeling the pull toward religious life.
On the first of January in 1981, I started a novena to St. Joseph, because I figured
here was a guy who understood God calling you to do stuff that everybody else thought was
crazy, Father Dominic says. When I did this novena to St. Joseph, one of the
things I was concentrating on was, O.K., this means youre not a theater major
anymore. Youre going to be a monk.
He accepted that reality and, at the end of the 30-day novena, visited the monastery and
expressed his desire to join. He says he had even accepted that he would probably have
to change his major to religious studies.
But to his surprise, the abbot told him, I have a lot of religion teachers. I need
a speech teacher and a drama director and a stage manager. So what happened, Father
Dominic says, was that I handed this thing over to God and he handed it back to me
transformed. I said, O.K., its not about me anymore. And God said, Youre
right. And Im going to hand it back to you and make it about someone else. Youre
going to become an educator instead of a performer.
Father Dominic enrolled at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minnesota (now
St. Marys University), and continued in theater while living at the seminary.
He discovered that his experience in the seminary aided his theater work.
Theater is a collaborative art, and it does teach cooperation, but theres
always that star-power thing, he admits. So being in the seminary made me a
better theater student because it teaches you to kind of subdue your own desire within
this greater task.
He entered the novitiate on November 1, 1983. The following year he took his first vows.
Shortly after, he began teaching at the academy and directing plays. Then his life took
an unexpected detour.
I had no intention of becoming a priest, he says. His call to the priesthood
was, he believes, genuinely a call from the Church because it was his students who kept
bringing up the idea. Because it was others calling him to this ministry, he says he had
to give the idea serious consideration. It was the body of Christ and the Holy Spirit
working through others calling me, he says.
It was also the perfect way to be called, he believes.
If this had come from me, it would have been, Is this just a substitute for star
power? Is this just one more way of me being on the center stage? he says.
On June 7, 1992, he celebrated his first Mass at St. Bede Abbey. He returned to teaching,
became head of the religion department, chaplain of the Academy and its drama director.
Needless to say, he was more than busy. And then came the television show.
One of Father Dominics friends mentioned his name to producers at KETC-TV in St.
Louis while pitching a potential show idea. Father Dominic says he told her to go ahead
only because he thought nothing would come of it. He was wrong. They liked the idea and
came to watch him teach. And they came on just the right day.
They came on the day that I was teaching the multiplication of the loaves in freshman
religion. I do a reflection called What Kind of Bread Shall We Be? where we
talk about different kinds of bread and how they symbolize different kinds of Christian
ministry, he says.
For example, he points out, There are rye-bread Christians who have a really unique
flavor, like rye bread. Not everyone likes rye bread. But the people who do like rye bread really do.
I think rye-bread Christians are like the prophets in our midst. Not everyone likes them
and sometimes theyve got a little flavor that makes people say, I dont
like that. But sometimes thats exactly what the Church needs. Theyre
not afraid to be themselves.
Immediately after the class, he was offered a TV show. His first reaction, he says, was
to turn them down.
We already had that discussion with God, he says. You know, handed it
over, handed it back, and now Im the backstage guy.
But when he took the proposal to the abbot at that time, Abbot Roger Corpus, O.S.B., the
abbot pointed out that this was an opportunity to show a real monk to people, not a Hollywood
view or a sitcom view of what people think monks are.
Father Dominic told the producers that, if he signed on, they were going to get
a Benedictine monk whos a priest. Youre not going to get a baker who happens
to be wearing a habit. They agreed. They were looking for someone who was going to
bring something different to the world of food television.
He told them, People dont need recipes, they need reasons to bake. They need
somebody to say, When I bake, I get this great feeling. I connect with this wonderful
experience I had when I first found this bread or I remember my great-grandmother.
The first show aired in 1999.
The loaves of bread are placed in the oven but, before closing the door, Father Dominic
gives one final instruction: Bless the bread. He explains that his mom and
grandma taught him always to bless the bread before baking it. We quickly make the sign
of the cross over the bread and close the oven door.
Adjusting to baking on television was difficult, admits Father Dominic.
If your bread is not rising, theres nothing you can do to make it rise. If
its not working out, its not like all you have to do is trim the fat off another
steak and throw it on the grill. If youve blown it, youve got another two hours
before you get another chance, he says.
He says the long hours are also tough, noting that often the crew gets to the studio at
7 a.m. and sometimes doesnt leave until 11 p.m.
He says it is worth it, though, because of the encouraging letters and e-mails he receives.
He remembers one in particular from a man who said he watched the show and was struck by
how happy Father Dominic seemed. The man then said that he realized it was because God
was Father Dominics best friend. The man said that he wanted to be that happy and
had started going back to Church and trying to get his spirituality back.
If the whole show had crashed and burned, it would have been worth it for this one
guy saying, You brought me back to God, Father Dominic says.
Breaking Bread With Father Dominic, which ran for three seasons, is currently on
hiatus. Father Dominic explains, I felt like it was starting to interfere with my
ministry a little bit and my own prayer life. So I took a year off to write Bake and
Be Blessed, which is my book of reflections.
As for the future of the show, he simply says, Were looking now at the possibility
of doing another season or maybe doing another program.
But that doesnt mean hes not staying busy. Hes still teaching at the
Academy, directing plays and theater groups and organizing events such as the Medieval
Faire. He says that one of the common misperceptions of monastic life is that there is
an unrelenting sameness.
I have not found that to be the case. We have 1,100 acres. We have a library with
four floors of books. How bored could I possibly get? There is this huge kitchen and wonderful
collection of cookbooks and a lot of people to feed. Weve got a lovely garden, and
with the high school, weve got our own basketball court, weight room, swimming pool.
There are so many things to be interested in, so many things to be involved in,
so many things to learn. Since I joined the monasteryIm quite seriousIve
been bored six times, and they all lasted about 10 minutes, he says.
And then there is the baking.
Im still testing recipes left and right, so its not like Ive stopped
baking, he says. In fact, he admits, I cant go too long without baking.
I really cant. I go a week without getting my hands in the dough and I get a little
The timer goes off and we remove the bread from the oven. Father Dominic taps his finger
on the bread to check for the hollow sound of perfectly baked bread. He brushes the tops
of the loaves with butter and calls it a night. These loaves are ready to be broken and