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.”