Getting to Know Father Ben:
His Passion for Faith & Community
By Lesley Harris Colvett
Photography by Mark Ramirez
Word of Father Ben’s impactful homilies had been spreading throughout the community even before he came to St. Michael Catholic Church on Summer Avenue in 2018. Prior to St. Michael, Father Ben spent four years as chaplain at Bishop Byrne High School in Memphis, four years as associate pastor of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, two years as associate pastor at the Church of the Incarnation in Collierville, and as pastor at Resurrection Catholic Church in Memphis.
Father Ben has a unique way of grabbing your attention, teaching, and relating to all ages. He approaches homilies like he’s having coffee with a friend. He steps away from the altar and into the aisle, paces back and forth, refers to the parishioners as “brothers and sisters,” grabs your attention by asking a question, draws you in with fascinating facts, and you know the heart of the homily is coming when he says “I’ll close with this…” and you just can’t wait to hear it.
What is Father Ben’s secret? “I love history, so I always try to bring in a bit of historical elements if I can. I plan out my homilies for the month…I don’t really know what I am going to say, but I know where I am going to end.” Father Ben says one of his secrets to his captivating homilies is he adheres to “Transcendental Truth,” which crosses religious barriers and means there are some experiences that every human being has experienced - such as worry, anger, discouragement and to some level self-esteem issues.
So, just who is Father Ben? Ben Bradshaw was baptized Lutheran but became Catholic at a young age. He grew up in midtown Memphis with his parents and sister, went to church at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and attended grade school at St. Louis Catholic School. He started thinking about becoming a priest in first grade, when he first met Monsignor Paul Clunan. It was also at this age that Father Ben started cooking for his family, and he has loved cooking ever since. He started working in a kitchen at age 17.
Father Ben attended and graduated from two cooking schools in the United States: Johnson & Wales in Charleston, SC; New England Culinary Institute in Vermont; and pastry school at Ecole Lenôtre in Paris, France. “I had an awesome family growing up, they always encouraged me to work. When I was working in commercial kitchens I was always working holidays and long hours, which was good preparation as a parish priest,” Father Ben says. He worked at La Tourelle as Erling Jensen’s sous chef, at Chez Philippe as a prep cook, and City Bread Company as head pastry chef.
“During cooking school I always thought about the priesthood,” Father Ben says. While working Sunday brunches in Memphis he realized he was missing Sunday masses, so he started going back to church and prayed about the possibility of becoming a priest.
At age 27, Father Ben took a leap of faith and went to a Catholic Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. “In my seminary class we had former attorneys, former accountants, electricians, guys that came from multiple backgrounds. And in my humble opinion that’s very helpful when being a pastor because it is a little like running a business - you have to do fundraising, building projects, budgets and
One of Father Ben’s seminary instructors was Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York. “I look up to him so much. He has been such a fantastic mentor. He is just a good, humble man. An outstanding example of what a priest should be,” Father Ben says.
Father Ben was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Memphis in June of 2006 and performed his first mass at St. Louis Catholic Church, offering it to Monsignor Paul Clunan.
Father Ben credits women and everyday people he encounters as a source of inspiration in his life. “I have been really lucky to know incredible women leaders including my mother, religious sisters, single mothers, and outstanding women leaders who have been very formative in my life, and I see the strength that they have. As a priest we get exposure to thousands of mothers in multiple faiths and multiple parts of the world, and seeing what they worry about and struggle with, is inspiring for me. That has had a huge impact on me,” Father Ben says.
Father Ben enjoys traveling, and has traveled the world. “As a parish priest, you can travel anywhere in the world and there is a Catholic church,” Father Ben says. “I love traveling for this very reason. I just led a group to Italy, and next year we are leading a group going to France. I try to do a mission trip every year, usually to Guatemala but the next will be to El Salvador. About every four years I go to West Africa - I really love it!”
Father Ben loves the Memphis community, and he and other religious leaders will be joining together to pray for peace in the city.
Father Ben’s calendar stays full. St. Michael’s church offers many fun, engaging events such as “Burnt Offerings: Cigars and Conversation with Father Ben” for the Men’s group; Cocktails & Conversation with Friends and Father Ben” for the Ladies of St. Michael; and “Bread Alone,” which reflects Jesus saying in the Gospel “Man shall not live by bread alone,” where Father Ben utilizes his culinary skills at St. Michael’s during a cooking class with couples of the parish. And, Father Ben’s skills are a hot auction item at Catholic school fundraisers as he’ll come and cook dinner at the highest bidder’s home.
Father Ben will join local chefs and priests at Cooks & Collars, an inaugural dinner and fundraiser benefiting Catholic Charities of West Tennessee Emergency Services Programs, held at FedEx Event Center at Shelby Farms on September 15, 2022.
Fortunately, Father Ben’s captivating homilies are right at your fingertips as he has launched a podcast, The “Soul Food Priest,'' which includes his homilies, recipes, Q&As, and interviews. Mass may also be found online at stmichaelmemphis.org.
Getting to Know Father Ben: His Passion for Faith & Community