Father David Sharland — Youth Apostle and Faithful Foodie
“Food is a way to celebrate life.”
Father David Sharland, the chaplain for the Catholic Campus Ministry at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia (a ministry of the Youth Apostles) was raised in a Catholic family from Alexandria, Virginia.
As he explained, the Youth Apostles were formed several decades ago in Arlington, Virginia, with the purpose of serving young people at Saint Anthony of Padua’s parish. “Its founder wanted to establish a group where post-high school guys could gather to grow in faith,” said Father Sharland. “But then he realized it was really a community that would minister to others. I got involved in 1982… and it helped me grow my faith.” He added that it also led him to discernment about becoming a priest.
His faith became solidified when he became involved with the campus ministry at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, which led him to meet others from Youth Apostles. “There I met some great men,” he said, “and their ministry led me to where I am today, working with young people.”
When he entered Saint John’s Seminary in Boston, Father Sharland and his brother Youth Apostles would be serving in the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, at the invitation of then-Bishop Sean O'Malley. Father served at Saint Mary's, New Bedford, for one year, and then at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Seekonk, where he worked for two more years before being called back to Arlington, assigned as Director of Formation for his community, and continuing college outreach work before serving as chaplain and director of campus ministry at nearby Marymount University for seven years. “It was a wonderful time,” he said.
About that time, the Richmond Diocese wanted to make some changes in the ministry at Virginia Tech, assigning the ministry to the Youth Apostles, so Father Sharland as well as two laymen headed to Blacksburg. Its goal was to build on the programs in place for a more robust and sacramental life, for starters. Father Sharland began daily Masses every day; offered confessions several times a week; and launched weekly afternoon Adoration.
“The program exploded,” he said. “When we got there only small groups of maybe 50 to 60 students gathered for small groups,” he said. Currently, 350 gather for weekly Bible studies and about 70 students come to daily Mass.
But Father Sharland attracts students to his programs for another reason: Father’s weekly dinnertime gatherings. Besides his devout Catholicism, Father Sharland is also a devout foodie, having watched his Irish mother cook during his childhood. Post college, he became a Food Network fan, trying to recreate the dishes presented on their shows.
But his turning point came when he was asked to prepare a Youth Apostles’ dinner for 20 guests, including several professional chefs. The event was a success, and Father Sharland realized that God had given him a gift: cooking. “Food is a way to celebrate life,” he said. “I have had no professional training, though I would like to get some. But I don’t have the time.”
He regrets he cannot cook as often as he would like, but he does pitch in to help with Sunday suppers and he prepares and serves a regular dinner on Monday nights for 25 students who come over. “I pray for the energy,” he said. “I also use cooking for fundraisers, and we will auction off dinner for eight at up to $3000 for a meal. For a fancy meal, I pull it all out,” adding that the menu might include tasty appetizers, sautéed mushrooms with a cabernet reduction, homemade butternut squash soup, a salad with gorgonzola cheese, roasted tenderloin of beef, risotto, and a flourless chocolate torte with pistachios. He even smokes and grills food, and is known for his smoked beef brisket, an offering his guests really enjoy.
As he concluded, the students’ mealtime gatherings are a way to share life, adding that the meals are an invitation for community building.
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Recipe: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Recipe courtesy of Fr. David Sharland, YA
- Prep Time: 20 min
- Cook Time: 90 min
- Yield: 4 to 6 as side dish
- 3 ½ pounds butternut squash
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage, plus 1 tablespoon sage for stock
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup unsulfured molasses
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup (1/4 inch) diced onion
- ¼ cup (1/4 inch) diced celery
- ¼ cup (1/4 inch) diced carrot
- ¼ cup fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 cups chicken stock or low-sodium stock
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler. Cut in half lengthwise, discard the seeds and innards, then cut the flesh into 1-inch cubes. Place in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter ceases to foam and has turned a light brown, pull the pan off the heat and immediately add the 2 tablespoons sage, sugar, vinegar (careful of the splatter), and molasses. Mix the fennel seeds, coriander, cinnamon, garlic, sea salt and 1 tablespoon pepper. Mix well and let simmer over med-low heat for 1 to 2 min. (For extra flavor, lightly toast the rub mixture first before adding to pot to release the spice oils and therefore, more flavor).
Pour the mixture over the squash and toss well, then transfer to a well-rimmed baking sheet or baking dish large enough to hold squash mixture in a single layer. Place in the oven and roast, tossing once or twice, until very tender and caramelized, 45 to 60 min. Set aside.
Meanwhile in a large stock pot, heat olive oil and add onion, celery and carrot, stirring occasionally to gently brown. Add salt and pepper. Add in stock, roasted squash, and 1 tbsp finely minced sage.
Cook soup over medium-low heat for 20 minutes to meld flavors. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup mixture until all ingredients are smooth, well incorporated but still thick. Alternately, add mixture in small batches to a blender, being careful not to overfill. (Hot soup can erupt from blender). Check soup and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve with warm crostini with melted fontina cheese for an extra delight.