Ten years ago in McLean, Virginia, native Californian Sabatino Carnazzo, now Father Hezekias and a priest of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, took a major leap of faith: he founded the Institute of Catholic Culture (ICC). From its small beginning, the Institute now brings to Catholics worldwide an opportunity to learn and strengthen their faith through solidly Catholic, orthodox teaching. Browsing through its website today can stun: the ICC curriculum touches on eight categories of Catholic learning — including Sacred Scripture, History, Theology and Liturgical Studies — boasting over 1,000 hours of free educational programs.

In addition to its on-demand library, the Institute hosts regular live and interactive webinars available to those who register online. The webinars draw a big audience, with more than 1,500 people from 37 countries signed up for the recent yearlong class on History 101, The Ancient and Biblical World, led by Dr. John Pepino, a professor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska.

And while the ICC has grown into an international organization, it remains strongly rooted in its home in the Diocese of Arlington, offering regular dinners and educational programs hosted at local parishes. These feature prominent leaders and speakers who are luminaries in Catholic education — including Msgr. Charles Pope, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington; Christopher Check, president of Catholic Answers; and Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College.

The speakers and topics draw in crowds, of course, but who can resist a free ICC dinner, especially when the main course is along the lines of lemon garlic rock cod, marinated pork tenderloin or oven-roasted chicken? If the dinner and wine weren’t enough, the meal is finished off with fresh fruit and cookies baked and donated by ICC volunteers. And the meaning of the dinner event is about more than just food, explains Father Hezekias, “How important it is to integrate food into the life of our church community so that the liturgical experience spills out into the festive life of the Church. At the Institute, we come together to learn and to live our life in Christ.”

Raised in a large Sicilian family in California, Father Hezekias said that family meals were an important point of his family life. “The family loved food,” he said, “and no matter what we did, we were always eating together.” Thanks to his Nana, Father Hezekias learned early on how to cook, “to stir the pot,” which prepared him well for his first job during and after high school when he started working with a cousin who owned and ran a catering company in Monterrey, California. “I learned the art of catering,” he said, “which just increased my love of food, and that continued when I attended Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia.”

While at Christendom, he hosted a group of students who came together regularly to his house to discuss their faith and to eat whatever then Sabatino Carnazzo had whipped up for them. “That became a center of learning and culture,” he said, “as we talked and ate together.”

Today, he cooks often for his family, making Sicilian food, but with a California twist, as well as Mexican and Middle Eastern fare. “I like cooking and using fresh ingredients,” he said. “I prefer serving people and seeing them experience and enjoy food and life.” On Sunday afternoons, Father Hezekias and family open their home so guests can enjoy Sunday in an evangelical way. “By opening our home,” he said, “we allow the liturgy to overflow into our lives and cultivate relationships among God’s people. It is the worship of God and communal festivity.” On a recent Sunday afternoon, for example, his family hosted more than 200 people from his parish and the surrounding community. “What a joy it is to see Christians growing in their faith and supporting one another through fellowship,” he said.

(Note: Father Hezekias is a married, Melkite Greek Catholic priest and is blessed with seven children. Along with his role as founder and executive director of the Institute of Catholic Culture, he is currently the pastor of St. George Melkite Catholic Church in Sacramento, California.)