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On a Firm Foundation: We are fed – and the story of my vinegar


Mary Quilici Aumack

Executive Director
Catholic Community Foundation of Santa Clara County


I have been making vinegar for more than 20 years. In our pantry sits a big crock full of red wine vinegar and its “mother.” The mother is the starter, like yeast in bread dough. The mother lives and grows, and converts wine into vinegar. It’s a simple process. To start, you need a piece of “mother” from someone else’s barrel or crock. You combine that with a few bottles of red wine and just let it sit. Every once in a while you feed it, with plain red wine. That’s it. Well okay, some people say you should add water occasionally, but I side with the purists.

It’s simple.

And yet, it’s so much more. The vinegar adds subtle flavor and texture to my cooking. I give it as gifts, or in empty wine bottles for friends who appreciate good vinegar.

The story of the history of my vinegar parallels the story of my parish. My mother came from Sheryl Pelzel, who got her from Jack Panighetti, who got her from Frank Velo, who got her from his mom Mary, who got her from her mom. The common thread was the Italian Catholic Federation (ICF), Branch 184 at Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Los Gatos. No one knows the exact origin of the vinegar mother, but we’re pretty sure “she” is over 100 years old.

Some years, we sell bottles of my vinegar at the Saint Mary Country Fair, telling the story and making money for ministry.

In addition to occasional feeding, the mother needs a cool dark location, and no exposure to air. If the barrel or crock gets too low, she can die from exposure. At one time we thought mine was the only living, remaining vinegar from this precious strain. So we set to work, spreading the wealth. I now know of at least four more thriving barrels.

Is the analogy too simplistic and obvious? Perhaps, but I’m going to say it anyway.

This is like our faith, our stories, our values, our dreams for our children, our legacy. These stem from gratitude for the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. They propel us to action. They need to be fed, to be kept alive. We do this through worship, dialogue, and community.

We also do it by clearly articulating our wishes for the future and documenting them. How do we want to be remembered? How can we provide support for these “mothers,” these institutions and programs through which we have been fed?

One way is through planning a gift as part of your overall estate plan. Sometimes we think these gifts need to be very large. Any gift is precious, important and appreciated. You can plan a gift to endowment, providing FOREVER VALUE to your parish, school or other ministry. Or, you can plan a simple outright gift. Both are important and needed.

If you have already remembered your parish, school or another ministry through your end of life planning, please let us know, call or email us at (408) 995-5219, or scipioni@cfoscc.org, so that we can include you in the Society of Saint Joseph and our upcoming Mass and celebration October 14.

Another way is through prayer. We pray for grace, for simple paths to help preserve these ineffable gifts through which we are continually inspired and made stronger.

I encourage you to take an active approach to your legacy. BE the “mother.” This is what will inspire and sustain us.

Mary Quilici Aumack welcomes your comments and ideas, (408) 995-5219. For more information regarding the Catholic Community Foundation of Santa Clara County please visit, www.cfoscc.org.