How Maria Von Trapp Inspired Colleen Rooney to Celebrate Feast Days With Feasts

Rooney is the author of a cookbook that focuses on the seasons and saints of Advent and Christmas.

Colleen Rooney and friends
Colleen Rooney and friends (photo: Courtesy of Colleen Rooney)

A native of Vermont and now a resident of St. Augustine, Florida, Colleen Rooney, author of Celebrating Advent and Christmas with Children, is a descendant of Irish immigrants and New England Yankees.

She remembers how her Catholic faith was formed because her parents lived for 10 years with her maternal grandmother, who was a devout Catholic. Their parish was St. Augustine’s in Montpelier, Vermont, where Colleen was baptized when she was five weeks old. Her grandmother’s grandparents, Patrick and Cecilia Barrett, were faithful Catholics and during their lifetime, they donated a stained-glass window to St. Thomas Catholic Church, Underhill, Vermont.

Colleen’s mother was from a large Catholic family. Her father was a convert. The family was active in parish events — Christmas bazaars, fall festivals, bake sales and rummage sales at St. Augustine’s. Her father was a lector and canvasser for the Bishop’s Relief Fund. She went to St. Michael’s Catholic School through ninth grade.

But, noted Colleen, “life altered dramatically in Catholic parishes in the 1960s. The changes weighed heavily on many parishioners and affected the formation of the young and practices of the faithful. The sexual revolution and the misinterpretation by some of aspects of Vatican II persisted for decades. For me, my grandmother was my anchor. I was the beneficiary of her prayers. When I detoured out of the faith in my late teens, she prayed me back into the Church in my early twenties.”

Colleen gives credit to her grandmother not only for her Catholic faith but for her love of cooking. She started on what was to be an inspired cooking life as a teen and then an adult.

“The thing is, cooking has always been part of my life since I was a small child,” she said. “My grandmother baked cookies and jam tarts. She would have leftover dough from the tarts and give me some to use for my own creations. So, I made my own little jam tarts and other treats. That got me started. As a teen, I made chocolate chip cookies, brownies, but nothing unusual.”

Her cooking (and Catholic) life took a dramatic turn when at the end of ninth grade, her aunt took a small group of students to have dinner at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. There she met Maria von Trapp, who served them and chatted with the students. She invited them after dinner to watch a movie filmed in Germany about the von Trapp family.

“That was a great experience and influenced me to read her books,” she said. “My eyes were really opened as to how faithful Catholics celebrated feast days in Europe with food traditions, songs and music in the home. That motivated me to try the celebrations of various feast days in the home with my family and with friends when I married and had my own family. Of course, seeing Europe with my own eyes as an 18-year-old gave me a rich visual experience of Catholic life that left a lasting impression on me. I have my father to thank for that.”

“I also must give credit to Evelyn Birge Vitz,” she added. “She asked me to do a few test recipes, and that was a tremendous exposure to food traditions throughout the liturgical year.”

She was inspired to write a certain kind of cookbook that focused on food celebrations of the seasons and saints of Advent and Christmas. Her audience is mothers, grandmothers, catechists and Catholic school teachers who would find the recipes and explanations informative and fun. 

Having cooked for her own children for years, Colleen has gathered recipes from all over and used them to bake cookies, breads and cakes for Advent, Christmas and Easter.

“My children would decorate, and now grandchildren decorate the cookies we bake to celebrate the various feast days. We celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas with miter-shaped cookies and chocolate. For the feast of St. Lucy, we make the bread, Lucia Crown, and for Christmas day we bake and decorate a special cake for Baby Jesus to acknowledge the birth of Christ,” she said.

That baking certainly strengthened her family life with Catholic customs and inspired Colleen to include a recipe no other Catholic cookbook has — St. Lucy Eyeballs. (See the recipe below.)

Note: She blogs at Her book may be purchased on or at the Blue Mantle in St. Augustine, Florida.


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St. Lucy’s “Eyeballs”

As Colleen said, “What little baker wouldn’t find this tasty treat fun to make and delightfully mischievous to offer to friends?” It is easy and takes about two minutes to prepare. You can microwave in 15-second intervals, using microwaveable plates. Share with family and friends. St. Lucy, pray for us! Replace leftovers (if you have any) in freezer or refrigerator.


  • Wagon-wheel-shaped pretzels of gluten-free pretzel chips
  • Hershey’s Kisses Candy Cane
  • Chocolate M&Ms (favorite color: blue, green or brown)


  1. Place a number of wagon wheel-shaped pretzels on a microwaveable plate. On top of each pretzel place a Hershey’s Kiss Candy Cane.
  2. Microwave in 15-second intervals until the kiss is soft in the center but not runny.
  3. Remove from microwave. Place one M&M in the center of the soft kiss. Let cool and harden. Freezer works well. Remove a few minutes before eating.