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Building a Community By Multiplying Fishes

By Cathy Peoples

It's much more than 144,000 meals served for Fish Fry Organizers

The Saint Aidan Lenten Fish Fry is not just a fundraiser for Saint Aidan Parish and Blessed Francis Seelos Academy, it’s about building and serving the community. This year was the first time since the pandemic that the event was able to bring back its indoor dining option, and this year it was supersized by moving the “dining room” from the school cafeteria to the bright and spacious Ryan Center gymnasium. Expanding the dining room also meant expanding the number of volunteers needed to begin preparing the dinner on Thursday, cooking and tending to diners and take-out customers on Friday, and taking everything back down for Monday classes for the school’s 350 students. They had no problem filling over 200 volunteer spots, week after week because they are a tightly-knit parish and school community with a big heart. “Every year, the Fish Fry brings out the best of our school and parish, but it takes a small army of volunteers - nearly 200 people - to make the fish fry happen each week,” stated Lindsay Ries, one of the Fish Fry chairpersons. “Whether your making coleslaw, breading fish, ladling soup, or serving meals, you feel like you’re part of something bigger,” she continued. Mike Cuddy and Frank McSorley are also chairpersons for the yearly affair. They began the Fish Fry in 2007 when the church and school were named Saint Alphonsus. Since then, they estimate that they have served over 144,200 meals to the Wexford Community. While Mike and Frank are passionate about the Catholic school and community they support, they also work humbly and selflessly for many additional reasons. “I am here to build the community and help the younger volunteers, students and children learn that they can practice their religion, have fun and be in a socially safe and accepting environment all at the same time,” said Mike Cuddy. “My personal goal is to stay close to people who are examples of the good Christian I want to be. There are many here throughout each week in Lent.” For Frank McSorley, the reasons for heading this undertaking are similar, “The fish fry is important to me in several ways. It provides an opportunity to bring people together. From patrons getting a meal and meeting fellow community members to allowing volunteers a way to give back to the community, there is a strong sense of togetherness.” It is also a family affair. Frank, Mike, and their brother-in-law Jeff Quirng is married to the Daniels sisters; Tricia (McSorley), Mary Ann (Cuddy), and Kathleen (Quiring), and all six have significant roles at Saint Aidan from making coleslaw to serving meals to laundering the aprons each week. Frank and Tricia’s sons, Matt and Sean, also step in. Matt is the developer of the website and technology for online and on-sight ordering and works with the curbside take-out volunteers each week. Sean works all positions, filling in wherever needed, just like Frank did for his dad at the neighboring St. Theresa of Avila Fish Fry (now Our Lady of Mt Carmel Parish) 41 years ago. And, after everything is cleaned up, the families along with other volunteers, load up their cars and deliver extra meals to the various services in the Pittsburgh area. “We have traditionally taken our leftovers to the less fortunate whenever possible, including the Easter Saturday lunch at First Food & Friends soup kitchen in Shadyside for many years. Covid interrupted many of these activities but we are getting back on track,” said Mike. Most recently, provided meals to the elder members of the parish that are unable to attend in person, donated leftover meals from a recent week’s Fish Fry to the Light of Life Mission, and helped a student-led service project at Seelos Academy for the Harvest Street Mission by making and donating trays of macaroni and cheese. “I am pretty sure this is how Jesus would have handled things. I had thanked a co-volunteer many years ago for their service and they responded that “No offense, but I am not here for you, I am here to serve the Lord”, I will never forget that moment because it reminded me of the bigger purpose of what we do,” said Mike. The last Fish Fry of the Lenten season will be on Good Friday, April 7. Dine and take-out menus are available at www.fish-fry.org.

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