Cooking is second nature to Father Dan Schlegel. As the second-oldest of six children, Father Dan began honing his culinary talents at the tender age of 10.
“Both of my parents worked, so I’d get dinner started,” he said. It was helpful for his mother and meant the evening meal was ready sooner for the hungry Schlegel family. He didn’t create gourmet meals, but they were nutritious and filling. “I even enjoy making my own salad dressing. It’s not difficult,” he said, “and it tastes so much better.”
After ordination in 1988, he served as parochial vicar at St. Leo the Great, Holy Cross and St. Christopher parishes before a 15-year stint as pastor at Holy Angels Parish in Bainbridge. At Holy Angels, he was well-known for his culinary talents — and for sharing the fruits of his labor with parish volunteers, staff and friends.
“I lived alone at the rectory, so I had to cook,” he said. “My favorite cuisines are Italian and Mediterranean.”
During his time at Holy Angels, he initiated the parish’s popular Lenten fish fries.
“We always had homemade bakery (some courtesy of Father Dan),” he said, as well as a robust menu of lemon pepper baked fish, fried fish, battered perch, salad, cole slaw and more. The fish fries were community-building events and attracted volunteers of all ages, with Father Dan orchestrating things while wearing his custom-made dark blue apron that reads “Executive Chef and CEO Fr. Dan” in yellow lettering with a Holy Angels fish fry logo in the middle.
“It was an event that everyone — all ages — could participate in,” he said. “We had families who would volunteer together. It definitely built community.”
Father Dan said the average attendance was 600-800 people per week, but the fish fries sometimes attracted 1,000 guests and were a solid fundraiser for Holy Angels.
In addition to helping with the parish fish fries and cooking his meals, Father Dan also likes to cook for some of his priest friends. They get together fairly regularly for food and fellowship. On one recent, chilly evening, he made a big batch of fresh hummus and a pot of steaming chili to share with fellow priests before heading to a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game. Even better, the Cavs had a rare win that night.
He enjoys making Mediterranean recipes like Moroccan lentil soup, baba ghannouj and, of course, hummus. Lebanese salad dressing and tahini salad dressing also are tasty, easy-to-make favorites. “I try to use healthy ingredients like kale and whole grains. I also like to make soups and pasta,” he added.
Last year, he was appointed secretary and vicar for clergy and religious in the Diocese of Cleveland. But before leaving Holy Angels, he created a special cookbook for parish staff and volunteers and whipped up a farewell feast for the group. The cookbook, “Food & Friends at Holy Angels,” includes many of his recipes and some favorites from friends at the parish. Inspirational quotes are sprinkled throughout the 21 pages.
These days, Father Dan doesn’t have to do quite as much cooking, but he still enjoys dabbling in the kitchen. He lives in the rectory attached to the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland, along with Bishop Nelson Perez and four other priests.
Every now and then, he also meets up with his cousin, Father Jim Schmitz, pastor at St. Leo the Great Parish in Cleveland.
“Before Christmas, we made 750 ravioli stuffed with cheese,” Father Dan said. “There are a lot of steps involved in making ravioli, so it was helpful to have extra people.” He said there were two generations assisting with the ravioli project.
“And I used the scraps to make noodles for soup,” he added.