St. Joseph Parish in O'Hara gears up for Ash Wednesday fish fry

Photo by Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

The start of Lent next week is sure to bring options for fish frys and all the fixings.

St. Joseph Parish in O'Hara will be the first up, with an Ash Wednesday event from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the church hall along Dorseyville Road.

The once-a-year celebration dishes out more than 1,200 pieces of hand-breaded cod.

“It's exhausting, but it's filled with fun and laughter,” co-organizer Deb Stapf said.

Fish frys sprout up for the Christian observance of Lent that this year begins March 5 and lasts through Easter.

There are at least 100 parishes in the region that will sponsor a fish fry fundraiser, according to Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Throughout the region, local churches and fire departments will spend the next 40 days angling for customers. At St. Joseph, a fish sandwich nets $7, fish and fries go for $8 and a dinner with two sides and dessert costs $10. A la carte items such as macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and haluski go for $2. Dine-in and takeout are both available.

Fish frys not only help fill the coffers but bring together the community, organizers said.

“It's not really about how much money it brings in,” said the Rev. Thom Miller, pastor at St. Joseph. “It's about sitting down for that one day and having a meal together.”

A life-long member of the parish, Stapf and her husband, Bob, both have been helping to run the fish fry for nearly a decade. You can catch him standing over a 450-degree pot of oil while she coordinates an assembly line of dipping, scooping and packing.

The prep work begins Monday, when volunteers gather to bread the cod, separate the side dishes and stack the Styrofoam trays.

“There is a core group of us and we usually head to whatever job we had the year before,” she said. “It's like a relay; we kind of all know what to do.”

Parishioner Jack Shaw jokes that it probably looks like organized chaos, to an outsider.

“That fish comes in and we have to bread more than 1,000 pieces,” he said. “It takes a lot of people to make it work. When it gets to Wednesday, it's just hectic but it's all about the faith community coming together.

“To us, having that fish fry is more than a fundraiser. It's a way to kick off the important season of Lent.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at

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