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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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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, keep me in your care. Guard me in my actions. Teach me to love, and help me to turn to you throughout the day. The world is filled with temptations. As I move through my day, keep me close. May those I encounter feel your loving presence. Lord, be the work of my hands and my heart. Amen.

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