by Kara Hansen
TOPEKA — It wouldn’t be a Friday night in Lent without a fish fry.
Yet in Catholic churches around the archdiocese, people are coming for more than seafood — they’re coming for the company.
“It’s a chance for us to have a meal together and then come to pray together. It works very well, since it’s food for the body and for the soul,” said Father Tim Haberkorn, pastor of Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish in Topeka.
“The focus is on sharing and getting together. It’s building the body of Christ,” he added.
An estimated 200-250 people attend the fish fry each week, which precedes the Stations of the Cross and Benediction. The two parishes in Topeka were merged less than two years ago. In addition to Father Haberkorn’s leadership, parishioner Maureen Steinbock attributed this opportunity to come together for prayer and a meal to facilitating the merger of the two parishes.
“It provides an opportunity for different people to get acquainted with one another, and there is a feeling of shared work. It’s definitely brought some of us closer together,” she said.
Steinbock assists with organizing the fish fry each week during Lent. While some parishes rely on a high level of organization to ensure there are parishioners to work at the fish fry each week, Sacred Heart-St. Joseph takes a more laid-back approach.
“I don’t call anyone to ask their help,” she said, “but instead put a notice in our parish bulletin. And each week people show up.”
“A handful are the same each week, but we have mostly different people helping out each time,” said Steinbock.
She said the large group of different parishioners each week helps contribute to positive rapport, too.
“The work gets distributed to everyone, so there isn’t one person doing everything. Lots of people are helping out,” she said.
At St. Paul Parish in Olathe, the community-building starts with the Knights of Columbus.
It is the Knights who put together and distribute advertising for the fish fries. Through bulletin inserts, school fliers — even an advertisement in the local news- paper — all are encouraged to attend.
The fish fry at St. Paul’s is also an avenue for involving the youth in service within their parish. Boy Scouts, or others in need of service hours, assist the Knights in serving the dinner each week. Getting different groups of people involved and offering the Stations of the Cross after the dinner are both ways of bringing parishioners together in a shared mission.
“The dinner precedes the Stations of the Cross, so it works well for people who want to attend,” said Jim Schneider, a parishioner at St. Paul’s.
Schneider said the dinner menu is designed around the families in the parish community — from offering kid-friendly food choices to reduced pricing for children.
“We really try to promote families coming, so kids under five eat free,” said Schneider.
With a crowd of approximately 225 weekly, it seems to be working.
At Holy Trinity Parish in Paola, getting different groups involved in working the dinner is also a way of promoting not only parish unity but relationships with the larger community as well.
“It’s absolutely a way for us to build community,” said Jim Gray, a parishioner at Holy Trinity. “We invite other groups in the community to be cosponsors of each fish fry with us. It’s a great way for them to get some notice and recognition in the community, and they receive the profits as well.”
Gray said Holy Trinity has worked with its Cub Scout group, youth group, an organization called Heads Up, and the Knights of Columbus. Each has taken or will take a turn in cooking and serving a fish fry dinner during a Friday in Lent this year to a crowd ranging from 200-300.
“It really benefits everyone,” said Gray. “We get the opportunity to help different community organizations, and it gets them involved. Plus, they have the increased visibility in the community.”