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The fish fry at St. Raymond-St. Elizabeth Maronite Catholic Church features falafel, left, and fish.
The fish fry at St. Raymond-St. Elizabeth Maronite Catholic Church features falafel, left, and fish.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Fried fish, falafel and faith

Maronite and Roman Catholic communities and cuisines come together at St. Raymond-St. Elizabeth fish fry

On a Friday evening inside the St. Raymond-St. Elizabeth Maronite Catholic Church cafeteria in Crestwood, Scott Shipley loaded up his plate with fried shrimp, coleslaw and falafel.

Msgr. John Nahal, pastor of St. Raymond-St. Elizabeth Maronite Catholic Church, served Scott and Amy Shipley, parishioners at Our Lady of Providence in Crestwood, during a fish fry Feb. 23.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
Falafel, a deep-fried ball of ground chickpeas and spices, was a new food for Shipley, a parishioner at Our Lady of Providence in Crestwood. As he dug in, Msgr. John Nahal stopped by to chat. When he discovered that Shipley had missed the tahini dipping sauce, he brought it over himself.

“It was very good. It was something you’re not going to get at another parish,” Shipley said. “I saw it on the menu, so I had to try it — I’d never had it before.”

Fish fries are a perennial staple of Lenten Fridays in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Here, volunteers served up Lebanese mjadra (a dish of lentils, rice and caramelized onions), falafel, hummus and pita bread alongside traditional American fare of fried and baked cod, shrimp, macaroni and cheese, french fries, green beans and coleslaw.

Parishioner Tony Hamad had been hard at work since 8 a.m., making the mjadra, falafel and hummus and breading the fish with his own seasoning mix. The Lebanese recipes had been passed down through the generations from his great-grandmother.

“So they’re a hundred years old, at least,” said Hamad, who emigrated to the United States from Lebanon in 2001. “And everything is from scratch.”

Feb. 23 marked St. Raymond-St. Elizabeth’s first fish fry since a Maronite partnership began between St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in 2020. The Maronite Church, an Eastern Catholic Church with roots in the Middle East, is responsible for the administration of the parish, but both Roman Rite and Eastern Rite liturgies and sacraments are regularly celebrated. Pastor Msgr. Nahal and two associate pastors have bi-ritual faculties to celebrate both liturgies; they also serve the Downtown location of St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral.

The Maronite Rite, named for St. Maron, is in full union with the Holy See and the pope. A Maronite can attend a Roman Rite Mass and receive Holy Communion, and a Roman Catholic may do the same at a Maronite liturgy.

Pastoring a flock of both Roman and Maronite Catholics has been “the best spiritual experience I’ve ever had,” Msgr. Nahal said. “St. John Paul II said, ‘The Church must breathe from both lungs,’ the East and the West … and now we see both rites, both Churches, how beautiful they are.”

Not many priests have the chance to celebrate the Roman Catholic Mass one day and the Maronite Divine Liturgy the next, he said. “I see how the Church, the Body of Jesus Christ, is complete by the West and the East. And there is richness in both traditions.”

Dave Taylor carried fried fish and shrimp inside for a fish fry Feb. 23 at St. Raymond-St. Elizabeth Maronite Catholic Church in Crestwood. Brad Taylor, a parishioner at St. Raymond-St. Elizabeth, worked at a frier in background.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
Associate pastor Father Tony Simon was ordained a priest for the U.S. Maronite Catholic Church on Dec. 17. With the permission of Pope Francis, men like Father Simon who are already married are permitted to become priests in the Maronite and other Eastern Catholic rites.

“I’ve been inspired by the Roman (parishioners), their dedication to this church,” Father Simon said. “We welcome them, and they welcomed us … I think it’s been a blessing to be exposed to both, opened up to areas we hadn’t been exposed to before, for both sides.”

Across the cafeteria, Teddy Garagiola and Linda Hill sat side-by-side at the payment table, taking money and chatting with customers. Hill is a lifelong parishioner of St. Raymond, while Garagiola has been a parishioner at St. Elizabeth for nearly 50 years.

While some St. Elizabeth parishioners were trepidatious about the new Maronite partnership, Garagiola was grateful, she said. The future of the parish had been uncertain in many parishioners’ minds after St. Elizabeth School closed in 2003, and in 2012, the Parish School of Religion merged with neighboring St. Justin Martyr. Many families with children started attending St. Justin Martyr or other nearby parishes. But now, Garagiola noted, the parish is full of young families again.

“Lots of children — I just love that,” she said, indicating the strollers dotted between the fish fry tables. “We haven’t had a school in a long time, so it’s just wonderful.”

Msgr. Nahal was attentive to the desires of the Roman rite parishioners, she said, continuing the 8 a.m. daily Mass and regular devotions including Our Mother of Perpetual Help prayers and eucharistic adoration.

She’s also enjoyed the chance to experience the Maronite liturgy; recently, for the feast of St. Maron, she and many other Roman rite parishioners went to the celebration at St. Raymond’s Cathedral in Downtown St. Louis. Both communities come together for opportunities like Monday night Bible study and the men’s and women’s groups.

“We were two small parishes who really needed each other,” she said. “Now we’re together, we’re rather strong.”

For many longtime parishioners of St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral, St. Raymond-St. Elizabeth provides additional opportunities for Divine Liturgy and community, especially as the majority of parishioners have spread out into west and south St. Louis County, Hill said.

“There’s no neighborhood anymore like when I was a kid. My grandparents lived two blocks from the church Downtown. Everybody lived around that church,” she said. “Now there aren’t any parishioners (who live) Downtown.”

Hill was already familiar with the Roman Rite; her children attended Our Lady of Lourdes School in University City, and she would often attend Mass there on weekdays and make the trek Downtown for Maronite Divine Liturgy on Sundays.

“It’s all familiar, and it’s home to me,” she said. “…You still get that same awe of the Body of Christ.”

While the fish fry continued in the cafeteria, the priests (and many parishioners who had finished their meals) headed upstairs to the church at 6 p.m. for Stations of the Cross and Maronite Adoration of the Cross prayers.

The traditional prayers — and the pans of mjadra and falafel next to fried fish and mac and cheese — were opportunities for Roman and Maronite parishioners to encounter the other.

“It’s funny how God brings people together,” Father Simon said. “God brings people together. And some of the opportunities, that both sets of parishioners have had — and the priests — would have never come about but for the generosity of the archdiocese and the welcoming spirit of both sides coming together.”

>> Fish Fries

St. Raymond-St. Elizabeth fish fries will be held from 4-8 p.m. March 1, March 8, March 15 and March 22 in the St. Raymond-St. Elizabeth Maronite Catholic Church cafeteria, 1420 Sappington Road in Crestwood. Stations of the Cross and Maronite Adoration of the Cross prayers are held at 6 p.m. in the church. On March 29, Good Friday, the fish fry will be hosted from 4-8 p.m. at The Cedars hall on the campus of St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral, 931 Lebanon Drive in Downtown St. Louis.

To learn more about St. Raymond-St. Elizabeth Maronite Catholic Church and view the fish fry menu, visit stelizabethhungary.org.

To view the St. Louis Review’s map of fish fries around the archdiocese, or submit your parish’s fish fry information, visit archstl.org/ st-louis-review/ lenten-fish-fries.

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