A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world—from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith
For a Catholic priest who loves cooking and understands the connection between food and faith, Rev. Msgr. James C. Vlaun, CEO and president of Catholic Faith Network, of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Long Island, New York, leads a “heavenly” life: his television network showcases every aspect of Catholicism, from broadcasting a daily Mass to Catholic news and numerous faith-related programs.
And he also hosts the show called Real Food, that as the website explains, “brings faith into the kitchen!” On the show, he hosts chefs and guests who can clarify how food and faith connect by nourishing the body and the soul.
A native of Queens, New York, who later moved to Long Island, Msgr. Vlaun grew up in a devout Catholic family — and that explains how he connected food and faith. “I come from an Italian family,” he said. “and Sundays as a little boy to now, are important days. There is Mass in the morning, and when I was a child, we came home and changed into casual clothes and headed to grandma’s house. There we had a big meal.” This, he explained, is how he has been able to connect table (the altar) to table (the family meal), adding “around the altar and receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, made a direct link for me at my earliest age.”
Ordained a priest 31 years ago, Msgr. Vlaun became involved with the Catholic Faith Network, which has a lengthy history. Formerly known as Telecare until 2018, the network was founded in 1969 by Msgr. Thomas Hartman, also of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Even since its inception, the focus was on broadcasting relevant Catholic programming, from live religious services to educational series.
When he because its president (2005), not only did he continue developing programming but his love for cooking obviously inspired him to introduce the cooking program. And educating viewers about connecting food and faith must have been a prime motive for Msg. Vlaun. “No other Catholic station was doing a Catholic cooking show,” he said, “and when we started we did get some criticism. Now many Catholic stations do their own version. Originally, we produced four shows and tested them, and the audience liked them very much.” That led to the current series of Real Food, now in its 14th season, which has three different formats.
Msgr. Vlaun noted that his good friend and fellow Catholic cook, Lidia Bastianich, gave him some sound advice. She suggested that the format should shift between having a guest chef and his doing a solo cooking episode; and as a third format Msgr. Vlaun should visit a location and explore the culture from the place he is visiting.
“We’ve done the episodes from Arthur Avenue, the Italian neighborhood in the Bronx,” he said. “The area is one of the last Italian communities left in New York; filled with Italian shops and restaurants.” He added that it is a bastion of Italian culture, and it attracts visitors every day. (Note: he has also done episodes in Rome, a ravioli factory, many restaurants and outdoor farmers’ markets, to name a few.)
As he noted, the viewership is diverse and not all Catholic, and CFN receives a volume of letters even from folks who have found the channel while surfing the networks. The show is viewable on demand though the app “CFN” or on their website CFNTV.ORG, or on-air numerous times weekly on the Catholic Faith Network, which is available on most broadcast platforms.
“I am proud that our bishop sees the need for a Catholic television network to serve the Church and devotes a full-time priest to it,” he said. “We touch millions of lives everyday with the Gospel, the Church, and the ability to share theology and tradition.”