By Fr. Jerry Stack, C.PP.S.
What would Gaspar eat?
If that sounds like a somewhat foolish question, well, perhaps it is. On the other hand, it is surprising how much information we have about St. Gaspar’s eating habits from his letters and from the testimony of those who knew him during the process for his beatification and canonization.
St. Gaspar del Bufalo founded the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in Giano, Italy, in 1815. He left behind a wealth of letters and other writing.
Those who knew St. Gaspar took pains to point out that he was moderate in his eating habits, but he also appreciated the need for the Missionaries in his new Congregation to maintain their energy and health through adequate meals. Vincenzo Severini, a layman who served Gaspar and whom Gaspar provided for when he became disabled, noted that when the Missionaries ate at Gaspar’s table, “he would add a third entrée to the usual preparations.” The typical noon meal, which even today in Italy is typically the main meal of the day, “would consist of a soup, two entrees, cheese and fruit.” The typical evening meal was “soup, fresh eggs, cheese and fruits.” Gaspar wanted the food to be abundant, “since he did not want the necessary sustenance to be lacking for his coworkers.”
This was also mentioned by Don Giovanni Merlini, Gaspar’s close and trusted friend, who notes that Gaspar, while expecting the house treasurers to be careful in their expenditures, wanted them to supply what was necessary: “I heard him say to them in a gracious way: ‘Good food, good supervision.’ On another occasion: ‘Si non fuerint saturati, murmurabunt’ (‘If they are not satisfied, they will complain.’).”
More detailed information comes from Bartolomeo Panzini, Gaspar’s faithful (if often difficult) servant for the last fifteen years of the founder’s life. He notes that Gaspar was realistic in matters affecting the health of the Missionaries, providing them with a schedule that offered seven hours of sleep. He wanted there to be enough wine on the table, trusting that his Missionaries were “mature and educated” and would drink appropriately. Gaspar did not like vino cotto, a sweet wine, but preferred ordinary wine, or vino crudo.
A typical breakfast for Gaspar would be coffee, the yolk of an egg, and some bread or a biscuit. “Occasionally, in Rome, there would be a pizza on the table or a dish of candies or pastries which had been donated by some monastery. . . . However, while in mission work, he would not allow the use of those foods, namely pizzas, pastries, or similar things.”
Gaspar ate beef, and he considered chicken something of a luxury. While he did not complain about the seasoning of the food, “he did not like spices, onions or garlic. That was because they were not only things that were not in keeping with his temperament, but also because they were things that produced heat even in healthy persons.” His niece, Gigia del Bufalo, also noted that he did not care for food cooked in oil, as it disagreed with him.
Panzini was at pains to note that Gaspar did not frequent the coffee bars of Rome, although sometimes he would have a “grated ice drink” in the summer, and occasionally would purchase some ice cream as a treat. He would sometimes take a mid-morning snack, consisting of coffee and some small cakes made by Gigia del Bufalo. There is also mention of other snacks that Panzini would take along on his trips with Gaspar.
Fr. Giovanni Merlini gave a rather lengthy testimony on Gaspar’s eating habits. Among other bits of information, he tells us that Gaspar liked lasagna and rice as a main course at the noon meal. (Panzini said that Gaspar liked rice because that was the food St. Francis Xavier ate when he was a missionary in the Indies.) Gaspar was adamant about his dislike of chard, telling Merlini: “. . . it seems to me that God created Swiss chard as a medication for boils and blisters.” Merlini reports that he did see Gaspar eating a minestra made of chard on occasion. Gaspar apparently would eat what was set before him, but was also clear about his likes and dislikes.
Gaspar, so it seems, followed the typical Mediterranean diet of the day, a diet that modern medicine suggests is linked to good health. Moderate in his eating habits, he was concerned that others have enough to eat and to drink, especially when they were engaged in preaching a mission.
So what would Gaspar eat today? I don’t think it would be too far off the mark to suggest that he would probably eat much like the Italians of modern-day Italy, although he avoided some foods that gave him digestive problems. I’m not so sure that his apparent antipathy to pizza would be well received, however.
(Fr. Jerry Stack, C.PP.S., the editor of the C.PP.S. Resources, has translated several volumes about St. Gaspar del Bufalo and the early years of the Congregation. A former secretary general of the Congregation, Fr. Stack lives and ministers in Whiting, Ind.)