Annual Roseville Lenten feast serves up cod and camaraderie

| February 25, 2016 | 0 Comments
From left, Norm Goranowski, Dan Norris, Bob Jorgenson and Steve Schuster man the fryers in the garage at Corpus Christi. All are members of the Knights of Columbus and St. Rose of Lima, with Schuster having a dual membership at both St. Rose and Corpus Christi. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Norm Goranowski, Dan Norris, Bob Jorgenson and Steve Schuster man the fryers in the garage at Corpus Christi. All are members of the Knights of Columbus and St. Rose of Lima, with Schuster having a dual membership at both St. Rose and Corpus Christi. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

A fish fry at Corpus Christi Feb. 19 might have been most notable because of who wasn’t there.

The annual event, now in its eighth year, brings together the clustered Roseville parishes of Corpus Christi and St. Rose of Lima.

It has always featured the high energy and bubbly personality of volunteer Debbie Schuster, a St. Rose parishioner who came on board the first year with her husband, Steve, and faithfully served as order taker.

Debbie died Nov. 26, 2015. Her four-year fight with breast cancer ended her time behind the counter of the Corpus Christi kitchen during Lent.

Yet, her legacy is just beginning.

Enter Tammy Thompson, a St. Rose parishioner who started volunteering five years ago along with her husband, Tom. She had preferred to serve quietly in the background — until she felt the prompting to step into Debbie’s role this year.

“I’d just been getting little pings, as I term them, from Debbie,” Thompson said. “I would get this [message], ‘Just do this, just do this. Now it’s your time.’”

Then, at a meeting unrelated to fish fry business that included Steve, he, too, encouraged her to fill the role.

Tammy brought an energy of her own to the first of three Friday fish fries this Lent. About 50 volunteers from both parishes serve about 400 people a night, with nearly everyone making advance reservations. Two more fish fries are scheduled for March 4 and 18.

Though Debbie is absent, her husband Steve continues to work in the garage adjacent to the church building with other men, most of whom belong to the Knights of Columbus. They tend to the four fryers they bought six years ago with proceeds from previous fish fries. With a smile on his face, Steve hustles the finished product back to the kitchen, enjoying the work so much that it feels like Debbie is still there.

“When we were done cooking and enjoying some fish ourselves,  I actually caught myself looking over to the other tables to see who Debbie was sitting with,” he said. “Yes, she is still with us.”

Though Thompson and others choked up while talking about Debbie, their tears were wiped away once the cod fillets started hitting the hot oil and diners started filling the tables in the church’s gathering space.

The mood was festive as Thompson handed plates of fish and fries to dozens of grade school and high school servers, who carried them into the dining area.

“Debbie wouldn’t want it any other way,” Thompson said. “The music is cranking in the kitchen, people are laughing, running around having a great time. That’s what she wants. She wants us to continue life, and she’d be disappointed if we didn’t do that. That’s how she lived.”

Four other founding couples remain on the job: Tom and Sue Valois, Mark and Wendy Motzel, Dave and Maureen Boxrud, and Mike and Eileen McGurran. They come from both parishes and have brought their kids into the mix as well.

This year, three of the four Valois children were there the first night. The oldest, Peter, brought along his fiancé, Lauren Rupp.

They will be married at Corpus Christi Sept. 16, with their reception happening in the same gathering space as the fish fry.

And, what will be served for dinner on their wedding day?

The couple pondered the question, then Peter’s sister, Marie, a senior at Roseville High School who has helped at every fish fry, piped in with her suggestion.

“You should have a fish fry,” she told her brother.

“Yes, we’ll have it,” he said. “It’ll be a fish fry. It’ll be a beautiful, really fancy fish fry.”

According to members of the fish fry committee, the goal of building community between the two parishes has been achieved.

Valois said the mix of diners from the two parishes is “about 50-50” and the two-hour reservation list gets filled fast, with some people coming all three times during Lent. Walk-ins are accepted, but there can be a considerable wait.

The event is a success from a financial standpoint, too, but that isn’t how the results are measured.

“We end up making a good chunk of money, but that’s not the objective,” Mark Motzel said. “This is about community building, it’s not about fundraising.”

That’s precisely why the fish fries will continue. In fact, a summer barbecue has been added as a way to keep people from the two parishes coming together.

Now that four fryers have been purchased, there’s no way the fish fry committee will stop now.

“I think it would be sacrilegious to even think about it,” Tom Valois said about the possibility of discontinuing the event. “We don’t even want to bring it up.”

What they do want to keep bringing up is the memory of Debbie Schuster, whose lively and brave spirit has cast the mold for how to volunteer.

“I’ve never met anyone like her,” Thompson said. “She had cancer three times, went through numerous surgeries, all sorts of stuff. And, a lot of people didn’t even know, because she always had a smile on her face. She always looked like a million dollars. Her faith was incredibly strong, and she just lived her life, literally, ’til the last days.”

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