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St. Cecilia's Fish Fry View Comments
By Jeannette Cooperman

Gloria Valenzuela, a volunteer at St. Cecilia Parish in St. Louis, prepares chiles rellenos, a crowd favorite, for their annual fish fry. Chiles rellenos are large peppers filled with refried beans and Chihuahua cheese.

DURING FRIDAY NIGHTS in Lent, a group of dads at St. Cecilia Parish in St. Louis—scout leaders, mostly—used to get out the two big deep fryers and dunk salmon, cod, shrimp and fries. Parishioners would eat on paper plates in the parish hall, drink a couple beers with their friends and talk about the neighborhood.

By the late ’90s, those Friday nights had started to feel like wakes. Crime and vandalism were up, and nobody was bothering to pull weeds or tuck-point the redbrick two-stories on the surrounding grid of city streets. Instead, people were leaving. At Mass, the church wasn’t even half full. The Lenten fish fry felt like a weekly obligation, but it didn’t feel holy.

Then two things happened. In 2005, St. Cecilia became Parroquia Santa Cecilia with Masses in Spanish and a welcome sign that read “Bienvenidos!”

Three years later, a fresh-out-of-the-seminary pastor suggested reviving the fish fry by adding a few of the new parishioners’ favorite recipes.

“We used to think we were doing good if we had 150 people show up,” says Mark Politte, one of the scout leaders. “Now we’re hitting 1,000.”

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Jeannette Cooperman is a staff writer at St. Louis Magazine. She’s won regional and national awards for her features on social issues, health, religion and education.

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Oliver Plunkett: The name of today's saint is especially familiar to the Irish and the English—and with good reason. The English martyred Oliver Plunkett for defending the faith in his native Ireland during a period of severe persecution. 
<p>Born in County Meath in 1629, he studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained there in 1654. After some years of teaching and service to the poor of Rome he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland. Four years later, in 1673, a new wave of anti-Catholic persecution began, forcing Archbishop Plunkett to do his pastoral work in secrecy and disguise and to live in hiding. Meanwhile, many of his priests were sent into exile; schools were closed; Church services had to be held in secret and convents and seminaries were suppressed. As archbishop, he was viewed as ultimately responsible for any rebellion or political activity among his parishioners. 
</p><p>Archbishop Plunkett was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1679, but his trial was moved to London. After deliberating for 15 minutes, a jury found him guilty of fomenting revolt. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in July 1681. 
</p><p>Pope Paul VI canonized Oliver Plunkett in 1975.</p> American Catholic Blog Evil will always exist, and it will enter our lives unexpectedly and without consent. But how deeply that darkness will touch us is up to us; our will is our own. The dark affects our bodies but not necessarily our souls. Our lives can be taken. But they can also be given.

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