By: Kade Parker
Friday rush hour in Lafayette usually means gridlock, but you’ll find that traffic flows smoothly in the St. Edmond Catholic Church parking lot. Carlines like these at Catholic churches mark the Lenten season here in Acadiana. For those in observance, this means refraining from eating meat on Fridays and can include other more personal acts of abstention.
Several Catholic churches like St. Edmond and St. Pius X host weekly fish fries to fill this need for meatless meals. Putting on a fish fry for the masses is no easy task and requires significant preparation. Potatoes must be peeled, cabbage chopped and bread buttered before the fish hits the fryer.
According to figures from catholic-hierarchy.org, 323,568 Catholics comprise the Diocese of Lafayette. Feeding this multitude are local members of the Knights of Columbus. Plates offered by these councils typically cost $10 and include potato salad, coleslaw and fried catfish, with the proceeds donated to charities supported by the organization.
Ralph Gaubert is a member of the Knights of Columbus – Council 10293 and serves as co-chairman of the fish fry at St. Edmond. Gaubert says his council processes 250 pounds of potatoes, 200 pounds of cabbage, 90 loaves of bread and 28-30 cases of catfish weekly, a miraculous catch by any standards. Gaubert employs an assembly line method that keeps the fish flying and the cars moving.
“In total, we have 40-50 people each Friday helping us in some capacity with our fish fry,” said Gaubert. “Some people can’t make it every week, so we work with our ladies auxiliary to supplement our manpower, and it helps out tremendously.”
With the men frying the fish outside, the women form a chain around the kitchen, loading fish plates ready to be bagged at the assembly area. These bags are then divided into multiples of one, two or three making it easier for the runners catering the patrons outside.
Gaubert coordinates these efforts in the middle of the hustle and bustle, granting breaks when needed. Gaubert says keeping the mood in the kitchen light is important to ensure that volunteers are happy.
“You can max yourself out and wear your volunteers out,” said Gaubert. “You have to be cognizant not to let that happen. You have to keep it fun.”
Raymond Patout serves as the financial secretary for Gaubert’s council. Patout says his council sells about 700 plates on average during the Lenten season. These figures run higher in the first weeks, averaging around 800, but tend to wane in the fourth week. Historically, Gaubert explains that fishy fatigue might account for this downturn.
“A lot of people start eating crawfish that week, we find,” said Gaubert. “They’ve eaten catfish three weeks in a row. They want to eat something different that week.”
Across town, Michael Hare is in his inaugural year as Grand Knight for the Knights of Columbus – Council 8901. Hare’s council caters to members of St. Pius X, offering a similar fare but with an optional $1 dessert. Hare says this sweet treat brings in an additional $200 for weekly sales.
Hare estimates that his council sells 600-650 plates weekly, translating to $6,000-$6,500 in proceeds. The council then votes on a yearly philanthropic budget to choose which charities receive the money. Hare’s council primarily supports church activities, but he says the council also focuses on community outreach, including walks for mental health and autism awareness.
“We probably donate to support over a dozen different programs, some sanctioned within the Knights of Columbus,” said Hare. “Not everything is tied directly to St. Pius or the Catholic Church itself. We’re fortunate to have the financial wherewithal to do that.”
Charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism embody the core tenants of the Knights of Columbus. For members like Gaubert, the ultimate goal of these fish fries is to give back to the community.
“It’s not about sales,” said Gaubert. “It’s about the charities we support.”
The next time you crave some crispy Lenten catfish, visit the Knights of Columbus at one of these locations.
St. Edmunds, 4:30 – 7 p.m. (4131 W Congress St) $10
St. Pius X, 5 – 7 p.m. (600 Kaliste Saloom) $10
St. Elizabeth Seton, 5 p.m. – *Until sell out (610 Rain Tree Trail) $9