Celebrate the feast of St. Rita of Cascia with creamy polenta topped with mushrooms and peas.
by Theresa Wilson
Shortly before I delivered my first child, I stepped away from my busy job as an assistant director and chef instructor at a culinary college. I had been there for a few years and before that, I was working in the fast-paced, high-intensity environment of the culinary world. I had no idea what to do with my new found free time. The nursery was ready, the new baby checklists were completed.
I decided to start going to morning Mass. It just so happens that I live nearby the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia in Philadelphia, and it just so happened that when I first started going to daily morning Mass, it was during the week of her feast day.
People from all over were making their pilgrimage to the shrine. Every morning I was surrounded by so many faithful Catholics participating together in the celebration of the Eucharist followed by her solemn novena.
I have St. Rita to thank for giving me this place of calm and faithfulness, a place I could focus on God and his plan for me, how thankful I was for having a healthy pregnancy and this amazing opportunity to be a mother.
I also looked to St. Rita as I thought about how scared I was to actually be a mom! Learning about her life story, her convictions and faith and willingness to trust God eased me.
To celebrate St. Rita’s feast day May 22, we’re making creamy polenta with mushrooms and peas. Cooking with my kids brings me such happiness and this time, the opportunity to tell them all about St. Rita and why she is so special to me.
St. Rita of Cascia was from the Umbria region of Italy where the food is rustic yet full of flavor in its simplicity, relying heavily on seasonal, local ingredients like grains, vegetables, and local livestock. The only region in Italy without a coastline, the Umbrian cuisine isn’t known for seafood, as with many other areas of Italy, but rather more earthy menus. This dish is the perfect way to celebrate her feast day!
St. Rita was a wife, mother, nun and servant of God. In the dialect of her small town of Cascia, her name meant “pearl,” and so she is known as “the Precious Pearl.”
Although different events in her life where not how she originally envisioned they would go, she fiercely trusted God and his plans for her. When she was young, she wanted to become a nun. But being the only child in her family, her parents wouldn’t allow it. She was forced to marry an unkind man who was later killed. Her sons wanted to find their father’s murderer, but they too died before they carried out their revenge. After this life of love and loss, she finally became a nun. She joyfully lived with the stigmata until her death.
My nearly 4-year-old daughter loves listening to stories that involve her as a baby. While listening, she is tasked with wiping any dirt from the cremini mushrooms and measuring a few other ingredients. My son, just shy of 19 months, is thrilled to stand on a chair next to his big sister and looks on at her with such love and excitement.
And so now here I am, a mother cooking with her two amazing children. My daughter and son keep me busier than I had ever been in the culinary world. It brings me such joy to walk into St. Rita’s shrine every Sunday with them and know that this is God’s plan for me.
Theresa Wilson is an alumnus of Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. After pursuing her passion for all things food, she quickly rose the ranks in fine dining cuisine as a professional chef, and as a chef instructor and assistant director at a culinary institute. She is now a busy stay-at-home mom and short order cook to her amazing, energetic young daughter and son.