Lenten Fish Dinners Offer Fellowship and Fund Philanthropy

With Lent comes the annual tradition of Friday fish suppers in the Roman Catholic parishes of Poway and Rancho Bernardo.

But dinners are more than just a form of camaraderie. They also serve as fundraisers to benefit a wide variety of philanthropic causes.

The Knights of Columbus Catholic parish councils of San Rafael, St. Michael’s and St. Gabriel’s use proceeds to fund local and international projects and causes.

Former Grand Knight Domenick Amato in San Rafael and Grand Knight Dan Chadkewicz in St. Michael’s said the six fish dinners their councils hold each Lent are their biggest fundraisers.

Looking for a Lenten fish dinner?

St. Gabriel Catholic Church

Format: drive-thru or restaurant

When: 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. from Friday to April 8

Or: Parish Hall, 13734 Twin Peaks Road in Poway.

Price: $10. Buy in advance at PowayKnights.com.

St. Raphael Catholic Church

Format: on site or to take away

When: 5-7 p.m. from Friday to April 8

Or: San Rafael Parish Hall, 17252 Bernardo Center Drive in Rancho Bernardo.

Price: $15 for adults, $5 for ages 5 to 17, and free for ages 4 and under. A family ticket costs $35 (two adults and children). Shop at the door.

St. Michael’s Catholic Church

Format: Drive-thru

When: 5-7 p.m. from Friday to April 8

Or: Holy Family Center parking lot, 15410 Pomerado Road in Poway.

Price: $12 for 13-adults, $7 for 4-12-year-olds and free for 3-year-olds and under. Buy at the entrance.

Christ the King Anglican Church

Format: dinner in

When: 5:30-6:30 p.m. from Friday to April 8

Or: Parish Hall, 12730 Elmpark Lane in Poway.

Cost: $8 for one filet, $10 for two. RSVP at ctksd.org/fishfry.

“In a good year, we serve meals to 2,400 to 2,500 attendees over the six nights,” Amato said. The March 4 dinner in San Rafael attracted over 400 attendees.

San Rafael dinners and raffles helped his Knights distribute $25,068 in charitable donations in 2018-19, the most recent year for which Amato could provide data.

“We give about $7,000 in donations to different organizations every year,” Chadkewicz said.

St. Michael’s March 4 drive-in dinner served 130 meals. Before the pandemic, the Knights typically served 200 to 300 people each Friday. St. Michael’s has moved to drive-through dinners during the pandemic. Now that COVID cases are lower, Chadkewicz said they could offer a dine-in option by the end of March.

“People like to get together, be around people and look forward to (fish dinners) every year,” Chadkewicz said. “It’s quite a friendly environment where we have a good time and it’s also a lot of fun for us.”

As to why Roman Catholics abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Lenten Fridays, San Rafael pastor Monsignor Dennis Mikulanis said the custom dates back to the 16th century, during the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when Spain and Italy defeated the Ottoman Empire in the Gulf of Patras.

“Turkish forces were in danger of running all over the West and the pope called for prayer and meat fasting on Fridays to defeat the invasion,” Mikulanis said. “After that it became a form of penance for Catholics, until 1963 when the requirement to abstain from meat (was lifted).”

Mikulanis said while some Roman Catholics still observe the custom on Fridays year-round, it is now only part of Lent as a sign of penance and the death of Christ on Good Friday. Catholics are not required to eat fish, they simply abstain from meat, but fish is a good source of protein and often a favorite meal.

He said the fish tradition has its roots in Europe, where it is most often served. Also, fishing was a main industry in Spain and eating fish on Fridays was a way of thanking the Spaniards for winning the battle.

The Knights of Columbus of San Rafael Catholic Church served 400 people at its March 4 fish supper.

(Elisabeth Marie Himchak)

As for the philanthropic actions financed by the dinners, they are very varied.

For more than 12 years, San Rafael has supported Holy Innocents Children’s Hospital in Uganda, which his parishioners founded and began fundraising in 2007.

“Now the country has taken over the hospital, they are funding it,” Amato said. “We helped build the hospital, its operating theater and staff quarters around the hospital. … We spent a lot of time working with them on this effort, which is complete.

The San Rafael Knights and the proceeds of their fish dinners were among local supporters who together contributed more than $3.5 million to the establishment of the hospital.

This year, Amato said some beneficiaries will be wounded warriors through the Semper Fi Fund at Camp Pendleton. The Knights will also donate to the Bishop Flores Scholarship Fund to help needy elementary school children attend Catholic schools in San Diego.

There’s also St. Francis Mission School in Mississippi, a recipient for more than a decade, which builds churches and schools in poor communities, according to Amato. Another is the Merchant Marine Fund Fr. Jim Boyd. “It’s to help the guys who work on the ships who don’t make a lot of money and who are foreign nationals,” Amato said.

Some funding focuses on family life. Amato said they include Culture of Life to help women who choose not to have an abortion, St. Madeleine Sophie Center to help poor women, Noah Homes to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and a home for Indigent Retired Knights.

The Knights of San Rafael also funds a discretionary fund for needs identified by their pastor, scouts, religious education, and parish youth events. They also financially support eight seminarians from the diocese and college scholarships for high school graduates from the parish. Amato said they also fund diocesan appreciation events, help an interfaith shelter and send wheelchairs to those in need around the world.

Chadkewicz said the charitable causes supported by the Knights of St. Michael are similar to those of San Rafael. A portion of the proceeds from this year’s fish dinners will help the Global Wheelchair Mission, Special Olympics of Southern California, support two local seminarians and the Life Choices Pregnancy Center in Poway. There is also a lunch for widows and widowers, the Bishop Flores fund and assistance to military seminarians.

Through the Coats for Kids project, the Knights are providing coats to 24 boys and girls at a Tijuana orphanage adopted by the St. Michael’s Corporal Works of Mercy program, Chadkewicz said.

According to Chadkewicz, the Knights also set aside funds for emergencies that arise.

“Now the big effort is to show support for Ukraine,” Chadkewicz said. “We will donate funds for the refugees.”

In other years, emergency funding went to those affected by wildfires in northern California.

“All councils have been asked to support the efforts of Catholic charities,” Chadkewicz said, adding that this includes helping brother Knights whose homes have been destroyed.

Christ the King Anglican Church in Poway also offers fish dinners on Lenten Fridays, but as a form of fellowship for the neighborhood, not for religious reasons, its rector, the Reverend Eric Zolner, said. He said the old church on the property held fish dinners and Christ the King continues the tradition.

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