The following article was written by Sharon Tracy who works in our foundation office and who helped to plan the auction and the resultant dinner.
Fridays in Visitation Convent often hold out the promise for “me” time. Some sisters may look forward to the end of a work week with perhaps the chance to put up their feet and relax. Others might anticipate a quiet evening with no meetings or other obligations. For Sr. Marie Angela Presenza, Friday, January 18, was the busiest of days with an evening full of hustle and bustle. She and her friend Tina Nalbone had committed to prepare an Italian dinner for fourteen guests and Visitation Convent would be the center for most of the activity. The commitment came as the result of the dinner being offered at auction during the Sisters of St. Francis 18th Annual Golf Tournament in September 2012. It wasn’t long before the two women realized that it was one thing to agree to the idea and quite another to plan and execute it.
Within a few weeks following the golf event, winning bidder Kathleen Cuthbert booked the dinner for the evening of Friday, January 18, in the Canticle Room on the fifth floor of the motherhouse. The real work began. Sr. Marie Angela and Tina, with the help of Sr. Mary Vandergeest, executive director of the sisters’ foundation, and Mike Sabolcik, from food services at the motherhouse, spent many hours in planning. Details were hammered out through emails, phone calls, and meetings. Even a final taste-testing took place to ensure that the menu included dishes the two cooks felt they could prepare with complete confidence.
That January Friday dawned cold but clear. Tina arrived the previous day, allowing all of Friday for cooking. Both women brought together their skills and the long traditions of their Italian heritage to produce mouth-watering creations. The rich aroma of spaghetti gravy and other Italian specialties wafted through the fifth floor hall and down the elevator shaft.
For Sr. Marie Angela Presenza and Tina Nalbone planning and discussion laid the groundwork for the actual preparation of the meal.
Across the hall, the Canticle Room underwent a transformation. In the center of a long dining table rested an exquisite floral arrangement in reds, whites, and greens, setting up the Italian theme. A pristine white table cloth, beautiful china, gleaming silverware, sparkling water goblets, and a red or green napkin atop each dinner plate dressed the table further. Small tea light candles complemented and warmed the entire presentation. In a corner of the room a temporary bar was readied by Mike who would serve as bartender. All that was needed were the delicious Italian dishes and people to enjoy them.
The menu offered an array of savory and luscious dishes. Among the hors d’oeuvres were mussels cooked in a red sauce, fried calamari, and asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. The first entrée—eggplant parmesan—had to be accompanied by spaghetti and meatballs. What else would be served at an Italian dinner? Chicken Brushetta and roasted vegetables were to follow. And to complete the dinner, guests would have their choice of desserts—tiramisu, Italian rum cake, or Italian cookies—along with coffee and after-dinner liqueurs.
To allow Sr. Marie Angela and Tina to focus on their cooking, several sisters—Joan Cooper, Ann Forrest, Marie Cecilia Irwin, Jeanne Patrice Nisley, Mary Vandergeest, and Clare Wieckowski—volunteered to greet and serve. Srs. Joan and Marie Cecilia took on the role of greeters. The other sisters met briefly to decide on serving procedures. Do you serve dishes on the right or the left of the guests? Do you take away from the right or the left? The approved methods have changed over the years. Marina Parent and Anthony Smith, both from Food Service, joined the group and, without any fanfare, demonstrated the accepted standards. As the clock ticked toward , anxiety among our group increased. Had we missed anything on the table? Was the hors d’oeuvre table ready? What time should the chicken go into the oven? When should the spaghetti be cooked?
Arrival of Kathleen and her guests finally set everything in motion. The lively cocktail hour flowed into the sumptuous dinner of four courses, finishing with coffee and dessert. The supply of food seemed endless. One thing that got lost in the shuffle was the proper side to serve or take away dishes. Neither the servers nor the guests really cared!
Tired but sated, our guests departed, several taking home what was left of their dinners. Kathleen couldn’t have been happier. “The table setting was beautiful, the food was delicious, and the preparation was superb,” she said. “The time, effort, and love that the sisters and their staff put into this dinner were fantastic. Thanks to all for giving us such a great experience.”
Members of the Cuthbert family agreed that the final result far exceeded their expectations!
As for Sr. Marie Angela, she is ready to do it all again! “We kept changing or adding things to the menu until the last week,” she said. “Tina and I believed that we could provide an authentic dinner. Our dilemma was the abundance of choices.” Her final comment about the adventure? “Sharing the evening with Kath Cuthbert and her family made it all worthwhile. What a delight to be with them! It was truly a wonderful, memorable evening from beginning to end—perfect in
ways.” Tina agreed and added, “The night could not have been successful without
the help of all those who contributed: our resident Italian cooking partner,
Sr. Angela; the helpful kitchen and food service staff; the Martha Stewart-like
sisters who served; and Sr. Mary Vandegeest and Sharon who managed to pull it
So it seems clear that the foundation office will be able to auction off another Italian dinner. Sr. Mary Vandergeest expressed her appreciation saying, “The experience was a pleasure in many ways: the willingness and joy of Sr. Marie Angela and Tina to take on the dinner; their enthusiasm in planning and preparing it; the help and support of the other sisters and some of our employees in greeting and serving our guests; and the guests themselves. This truly was a blessed effort, and I look forward to repeating it.”