A café located near the teachers’ lounge at Bishop McNamara High School in Kankakee is serving up more than gourmet coffee drinks. This popular gathering spot is the brainchild of a Viatorian and it supports youth ministry programs while teaching valuable life skills to its student staff.

Fr. Dan Belanger with one of the student employees

Appropriately named, Holy Grounds Café, the shop opened in the fall of 2018 and has percolated ever since.

Fr. Dan Belanger, CSV, brought the idea to the school. In doing so, he fell back on his own experience in Junior Achievement — whose mission is to foster entrepreneurship through experiential learning — and his passion for youth ministry. To his knowledge, the student-run coffee shop is the only one of its kind in the region.

Specialty drinks are a popular item at the café.

“Ever since my experience in Junior Achievement, I’ve always had the desire to teach,”  says Fr. Dan, former chaplain of the school. “The café is student-run and at the same time it allows me to minister to kids one-on-one.”

The café was four years in the making. In taking the concept forward, Fr. Dan raised nearly $30,000 from parishioners of St. George, where he is pastor, as well as contributions from Bishop McNamara alumni and a grant from the Viatorian Community.

Viatorians often meet there, including (L-R) Associates Michelle and Ken Barrie, Fr. John Peeters, Fr. Dan Lydon and Fr. John Horan, associate pastor of John Paul II Parish in Kankakee.

St. George Parishioner Donna Schmidt, who formerly ran a grocery store, put together all the elements of their business plan, from establishing prices to their complete inventory line.

The result is an active hub at the school, which features art work from local artists, music and multiple tables for conversation groupings.

“The café is a gathering place for youth (and adults) to share with each other, take a breather from studies, and study,” says Associate Michelle Barrie, who coordinates the Office of Catholic Ministry at the school, “but also to be together in a place where they can talk about God’s presence among them. It’s a safe place to be with supportive friends and enjoy some great treats.”