Easter is just four weeks away, which means we’re immersed in the season of Lent.
Catholics growing up in the Kenosha area may recall prattling with friends about what junk food or video games they were planning to give up, the dresses and matching hats they were going to wear for Easter and whether they were going to the Friday night fish fry at church.
For those less familiar with the tradition, Lent is the 40-day period from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. During that period, the Catholic Church requires its members to abstain from eating meat on Fridays as a penitential observance in memory of Christ’s death.
The fish fry has become a savory staple of parish fellowship, where members will gather together over meals of crisp, battered fish — usually cod, if you’re in the Midwest, or haddock, if you’re in the Northeast.
The most typical sides look like ones that might come with a fried chicken meal — coleslaw, some form of potatoes like potato salad or potato pancakes, and bread.
At Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii, its popular fish fry began 25 years ago in the school cafeteria. After numbers began dropping, Holy Name Society president Larry Patrizzi and Tony Scarlato, member and fish fry organizer, moved the fish fry to the kitchen off the handicapped-accessible school gym to accommodate elderly parishioners unable to climb the stairs.
“The Holy Name Society purchased and upgraded kitchen equipment, and since then, we have been running our event out of the gym kitchen for the past three years,” said Patrizzi. “Just before this time, we added our drive-thru, which has been very successful. We are always looking for feedback from our patrons so we can improve and grow our fish fries.”
Holy Rosary holds four fish fry events during Lent. The next two are April 5 and 12 and feature baked and fried cod, several potato choices as well as coleslaw, rolls and dessert.
“We serve a few hundred through our dine-in and drive-thru service. Drive-thru has been very successful for us over the years since we introduced this option,” said Scarlato. “One notable attraction we offer is live entertainment. There is a gentleman that plays various instruments and sings.”
It takes a dozen men to run the kitchen, and several Holy Name Society wives help in ticket sales and coordinating youth. Youth volunteers provide drink and bus the tables, and final cleanup is shared among all volunteers.
The proceeds from the fish fries go toward a scholarship fund to further Catholic education, Patrizzi said, but the event is not solely about raising funds.
“We are working for a good cause, but there is also a great camaraderie among the volunteers,” he said. “There are also fun times with the patrons as they enjoy their meals. We have fun and achieve something valuable for a worthy cause.”
St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in New Munster offers the only fish boil in the area.
It used to be a school fundraiser, but after the school closed in 2015, the parish took over operations, said Pat Vos, director of administrative services.
The final fish boil of the year will be Friday and usually attracts more than 600 guests to feast on all-you-can-eat cod, boiled potatoes, onions, carrots, bread, coleslaw, applesauce, coffee, milk and dessert. Grilled cheese is also offered for the children.
“The men are very busy keeping the three kettles going all night,” said Vos. “This is a great opportunity for fellowship, and we thought the fish boil would be great for adherence to our Catholic faith since we only eat nonmeat items on Friday.
“This event stemmed from the old Big John’s as he had done the fish boil at the restaurant. He donated the crocks to our parishioners, John and Marilyn Lichter, and they donated it to us. We started this about 25 years ago, and it has become one of our biggest fundraisers.”
Proceeds from the fish boil are earmarked for parish repairs, including the roof and parking lot, which needs a complete overhaul.
“It’s a good parish community family event, because high school and grade school kids help with busing, dishes and errands,” said Vos. “We have a lot of former school parents, including non-Catholic parents, come to help. We have benefited in many ways from our people.”
St. Mary event
For the past 14 years, the Knights of Columbus have sponsored the Lenten fish fries at St. Mary Catholic Church.
The final one will be April 12 and includes baked and fried cod, with coleslaw, baked potatoes, parsley red potatoes, french fries, dessert, coffee, milk and a cash bar with beer and soda.
The event is growing in popularity, said Chris Kachur, Past Grand Knight, Immaculate Mother Mary Council.
“We are topping 400 and up for each fish fry this year, and in year’s past, we might get 350 to come,” he said. “All that we make at these fish fries, we put back into the parish to support the youth group, the Kenosha Catholic youth mission trips and have remodeled parts of the kitchen, put in a new stainless steel sink, painted the hall and some other rooms and installed fiber optics for the parish.”
Like the other local parish fish fries, St. Mary’s offers a 50/50 raffle during the night, and Karchur said guests enjoy sticking around to socialize after eating.
“I think the cooking here is incredible as our fish tastes a lot like poor man’s lobster, and from what others have told us, we give big portions of fish and have huge baked potatoes,” he said. “Our coleslaw is always homemade too and very popular.”
St. Elizabeth event
St. Elizabeth parish averages 400 fish fry dinners most Fridays during Lent. Funds from the parish-sponsored event go toward parish expenses. According to organizer Cathy Jury, the parish began drawing a larger crowd due to serving hand-breaded fresh cod and perch.
“The desserts are delicious and homemade by parishioners. We are known for our peach cobbler, cream pies, chocolate eclairs, carrot cake and a creamy pistachio dessert,” she said. “There are also Rice Krispy bars and cookies for children. Another thing of interest is our drive up, where people can remain in their cars, drive up to the front door of the school where parish volunteers, including our pastor the Rev. Sean Granger will take orders, run them down to the kitchen and bring them back out to their cars in a very timely manner.”