Robert Clausen cooks the fish to a golden crispness, assisted by Brian Hoxmeier, Deputy Grand Knight. The Indianola Knights of Columbus' annual fish fries are filling Central Iowa tummies at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Indianola.

The secret’s in the coleslaw sauce. And the fish batter.

The cooks at the Lenten fish dinners at Indianola's St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church may not divulge their recipes, but they’re happy to share a feast with fellow parishioners as well as the larger Indianola community.

Steve Garrett, Grand Knight of the church’s Knights of Columbus, is heading up the event this year. He said one of the highlights is seeing the large, round tables fill up with people from all faiths and walks of life.

“Now you have a whole community, who may not have known each other before, breaking bread together,” he said.

And it’s a lot of bread. As in years past, the church hosts a dinner every Friday during Lent in its parish hall, located at Highway 92 and R63 west of Indianola. The first meal was March 8, with more planned March 15, 22, and 29, along with April 5 and 12.

Each time, food is served from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The menu is an all-you-can-eat spread of homemade items: Baked or fried Alaska pollock, baked potato, French fries, coleslaw, dinner roll, coffee and lemonade.

Cost is $10 per person age 13 and older, or for a takeout meal. Children 6 to 12 are $5, while those younger are free. For a freewill donation, guests may also peruse a table of home made desserts put together by St. Thomas’ chapter of the Boy Scouts.

They even offer soft-serve ice cream from a machine, Garrett said, but he has another favorite: “The blueberry pie that’s been out there has been awesome.”

The church has been organizing these fish suppers for nearly 40 years, and each meal draws between 250 and 300 people. Beyond good food and fellowship, it serves as a fundraiser for both the church and community projects it supports.

And although the dinners are “for everyone, any denomination,” according to Garrett, they’re firmly rooted in the observance of Lent, a season of “prayer, fasting and almsgiving” that begins Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday, three days before Easter Sunday.

“It’s really a time for self-reflection,” explained Father Chris Fontanini, priest at St. Thomas. “We try to examine ourselves and get right with God.”

There are other Christian denominations that recognize Lent, but their customs may have little, or a lot, in common with Catholic ones.

Fontanini said that Lent is “broadly practiced by Catholics who take their faith seriously.” Those of certain ages fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as abstain from meat on Fridays—hence the popularity of fish dinners.

“It’s a way to participate in the sufferings of Christ,” explained Fontanini. “Meat is considered a luxury.”

Another practice is “fasting” from vices like gossiping, or from personal favorites, whether a treat like chocolate or pastime like video games.

Garrett shared that this Lent he’s given up ice cream, his “hard-core addiction.” He’s also making a conscious effort to refrain from swearing, in order to be a better role model for his son and other young people he’s around.

“It’s just a way to make yourself better,” he said.

Whether or not guests of the fish dinners share his faith, Garrett looks forward to making them welcome. More information can be found at stthomasindianola.com or by calling 515-961-7499.

“I love to socialize. We like to thank people for coming,” said Garrett. “It’s nice to see people have a good time.”

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