By Theresa Carson
On Aug. 5 at Techny, Ill., five men professed the religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and became members of the Society of the Divine Word. They are Quynh Thanh Cao, Edwan "Manie" Manuel, Hoang Quang Nguyen, An Thien Nguyen and Quang Ngoc Pham. In the fall, they will begin classes at Catholic Theological Union as they continue on their way to the priesthood. We present the second in a five-part series.
A chef by profession, 35-year-old Edwan "Manie" Manuel SVD from Buffalo, N.Y., thrives on innovation. As a child, he would go through the kitchen cupboards, looking for ingredients that would make a meal.
His first customers, so to speak, were his mother and her friends. "I started cooking when I was eight years old," said he said. "I made breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon and orange juice."
While his mother was in school for a nursing degree, Manie watched chefs on television, such as Julia Child. He would cook meals from scratch and recalculate measurements to tailor his dishes. His family called him a "human cookbook." As a teenager, he attended Emerson Vocational High School in Buffalo, N.Y.
He gravitated to the cooking arts and attended the Atlantic Culinary Academy in Dover, N.H. He also studied English literature and literature at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H.
A few years ago, when he was searching for a way to break into the holistic skin-care business, he said he prayed for an idea. He happened to be reading his grandmother’s Bible when a recipe for homemade soap fell out. He used his background as a chef to further develop the formula and opened Green Butterfly Soap Company in 2008.
His maternal grandmother, whom he calls his second mother, had a distinct influence on his life. When his mom, a critical care and trauma nurse, was in class and working, he would stay with his grandmother. He grew up in the inner city and was grounded in church.
"My grandma was a closet Catholic," he said. "Most of my family didn’t know she was taking me to the Catholic Church."
They attended St. Columba Brigid parish, where Manie eventually became an altar server and entertained thoughts of becoming a priest.
After time as a chef and business entrepreneur, Manie returned to the idea of religious life. He said his mother was not surprised. In fact, she even wrote a letter of recommendation, stating that when her son was only six years old, she knew that he would be a missionary.
He said that at that tender age, he recognized that his mother’s friend who had a drinking problem needed someone to walk her home and he would volunteer. He said that when he was 18—unbeknownst to his mother who thought he was visiting a friend—he and a friend bought plane tickets to London and spent two weeks doing street ministry, feeding the homeless and passing out pamphlets.
In 2010, he went Guatemala to work with indigenous people. "I got the mission bug," he said. "They brought Jesus to me. We take a lot for granted. They have to use buckets of water with parasites just to get clean. The people live in corn husk houses with no clean water, and yet they are the happiest people I ever saw in my life."
After his grandmother passed away, Manie heard a Catholic radio program about vocations. His religious calling was renewed.
He found the Society of the Divine Word through VISION Vocation Match.
"I’m extremely good at my craft [cooking]," he said, "but I’m happy in my ministry, where my heart is."