A Good Catholic Boy’s Easter Prelude

If you were a part of a Catholic family in Duquesne, this week was a very busy week, and if you attended one of the Catholic schools, it was ever busier. This was the week that the Season of Lent began. Lent, of course, is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter.

The Lenten Season actually began on Ash Wednesday, but as a kid, we had a lot of thinking to do prior to that day. The good sisters at Holy Name began drilling the need for sacrifice during Lent into our little heads in First Grade. From that point and continuing throughout every grade at Holy Name, each year we were instructed to decide what we were going to “give up” during Lent. Of course, we were not allowed to choose the things we REALLY wanted to, like brussel sprouts, spinach, carrots or chores. NO! We had to choose the tough stuff like, candy, cake, ice cream or COOKIES! Those nuns were heartless! Mom and Dad would always help me with my decision since they were fully aware of my likes and dislikes. They would also always dangle a carrot in front of me by telling me that it was only for 6 weeks and that when it was over, the Easter Bunny would have delivered a HUGE basketful of goodies for me to enjoy. Now mind you, I realize that my parents should have used this period of sacrifice as vehicle to build our understanding and dedication to our faith. However, the reality is that they had two active boys at home who were suddenly deprived of sweets for 6 weeks. It was like trying to kick a crack habit “cold turkey!”

In the meantime, back at Holy Name, the good sisters would take precautions against us “changing our mind” about what we were sacrificing for Lent. Once we had made our “acceptable” decision, they would pristinely write it on a piece of construction paper and post it on a section of the blackboard that was devoted to the current Liturgical Season. It served as a constant reminder that God was watching us and taking names!!

I don’t recall my parents or anyone else celebrating “Shrove Tuesday” on the day before Lent began. In some circles, it was called “Fat Tuesday” and was celebrated by eating rich meals and desserts one last time before Lent began. My parents never talked about it or mentioned Mardi Gras as a celebration that was occurring. It was never a part of the Hunky culture I suppose, but I do believe that there was a Catholic Hunky somewhere down in New Orleans that was using it as a reason to have a final shot and beer before Lent began.

Aside from the preplanning of our sacrifice, the biggest event of the week occurred on Ash Wednesday. During a very solemn rite, Fr. Shaughnessy. Fr. Turner, or Fr. Hanlon, would set the tone for the coming Lenten Season which would culminate with the placing of the ashen cross on our foreheads. I recall being very proud of displaying that symbol on my forehead. It was somehow a wonderful equalizer of everyone in our lives. Parents, relatives, priests, teenagers, and neighbors alike were all displaying their faith and were not embarrassed about doing so. Even though the intent was of a very solemn nature, as a child, we all wore smiles of delight to be old enough to understand the concept of Ash Wednesday and to wear its outward sign.

After Lent had begun, we were marched over to the church every Friday to participate in the Stations of the Cross. We all had our missals with their black or white covers, and we would follow along solemnly as each station would be announced:

  1. Jesus is condemned to death
  2. Jesus carries His cross
  3. Jesus falls the first time
  4. Jesus meets His Mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry His cross
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls the second time
  8. Jesus meets the daughters of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of His garments
  11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. Jesus’ body is removed from the cross
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb and covered in incense

One of the best parts of Lent was being able to enjoy “better than average” food on Fridays. The primary reason for this gastronomical change was the emergence of “Lenten Kitchens” at area churches. Of course, back when I was a kid, I think my parents called them “Fish Frys.” I can’t attest to the fact that every church in Duquesne had a Fish Fry, but at our house, we would either get these humongous fish sandwiches and fries from Hucksters Bar on Crawford Ave. OR we would go to St. Michael’s in Homestead/Munhall and enjoy their wonderful menu. They would have fish sandwiches, perogies that were just floating in pure butter, potato pancakes with sour cream or applesauce, haluski, macaroni and cheese, potato or macaroni salad, and bulbalki with sauerkraut, to name a few of the items. I don’t think there was a salad in sight, but MAYBE you might have found some coleslaw if you were lucky. No one complained about the lack of vegetarian dishes. Back then, my dad would always refer to them and salad as “rabbit food” anyway!

So, as you begin this Lenten season, remember that the good sisters are watching! No giving up running 10 miles a day, or staying up until 4 a.m., or rock climbing, or eating live goldfish. They’re taking notes you know!

This entry was posted in Church and School - Holy Name, Church and School - Holy Trinity, Church and School - St. Joseph, Holidays - Non-Christmas and New Years. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to A Good Catholic Boy’s Easter Prelude

  1. Barry Long says:

    Coloring the Easter Eggs was very special for me. I would always get a raw uncooked egg and surreptitiously get it to the table when the family colored the eggs. I would color it with my own design & put it in the rack to dry. Later I would remove it & put it in my sock drawer. When Easter weekend came all the gang went to the matinee & sat in the back row at the PLAZA SHOW. During the cartoons, much to the delight of my Buddies, I would hurl my decorated RAW EGG & see it go up & down through the projector beam to land somewhere in the forward seats. This would be followed by an audible,”What the %^)*#@+&(%*@!!????” a short commotion would follow. I would always be asked by my cronies if I had more eggs, but I always limited it to one. This Easter stunt was even appreciated by the “Stunt-Master” Albert Opalko one of the heroes of our generation. If during an Easter matinee at the Plaza Show you were a victim of a raw egg to the back of your head please accept my apology………& be thankful because Albert tried to sell me a grenade.

    • aopalko says:

      Barry I am Albert Opalko’s grand daughter. I am trying to contact his friends for his 80 please help.

    • aopalko says:

      I am Albert Opalko’s granddaughter and I am trying to find his old friends for his 80th Birthday. Please help by responding to this comment. I know he’d love to hear from you!
      Amanda Opalko

  2. Linda Perhacs says:

    I remember getting our Lenten “tin cans” to fill up with our pennies, nickels, and dimes. After Stations of the Cross on Friday nights, Sandy Seeman and I would go to Butler’s Drugstore and pick out our weekly candy bar. Since I hated fish, my Friday meal consisted of Halushki or macaroni and cheese. My grandmother would make salmon patties, her specialty…yuck. That’s probably why I don’t like any salmon, now . I’ve come to enjoy the Fish Fry at Holy Trinity…their fried fish is fluffy.

  3. Colleen Byrne Travis says:

    What the &%@& were pagan babies???? I remember selling those Easter Seals. There were rewards, and I had a goal. I wanted the holy water font to hang in my own room at home. Damn, I did it! Had my own holy water font! Luckily most of the neighbors were “Duquesne Hunkies” and understood, especially if you “hit them on the right Tuesday: (PAYDAY).

    • Jim says:

      Colleen, I forgot about the Easter Seals. I remember Holy Childhood Stamps at Christmas time. Whenever we went door to door selling them, we would tell our neighbors that buying the seals would help us to BUY babies! LOL! We’d get arrested today!

  4. Barry Long says:

    It’s 7pm here in Honolulu & reading this I’m salivating like Pavlov’s dog. So it’s off to get a big Mahi-Mahi fish sandwich……with TABASCO !

    • Colleen Byrne Travis says:

      Barry, Do you want to switch places? I would kill for a fresh Mahi-Mahi sandwich. Although Tassaro’s in Bloomfield makes a great one. Last week in Naples, I caught a 5/12 foot Wahoo!!! Wish we could have brought that baby home! When I moved to Baltimore in 1974, I had no idea of how to eat or cook the local seafood. After all, when I was a kid, we bought it in bars and it was already cookcd AND — it was great!

      • Barry Long says:

        Colleen the Wahoo fish over here is called ONO. I looked up the word in the Hawaian Dictionary to find it means” GOOD”& is used while speaking English eg. “That Pizza looks ONO”.

  5. Lori Achtzehn says:

    I used to go down to the Union Grill on S Fifth St & Crawford Ave to get fish for my Grandparents (Frank & Concetta Roviaro). I hated walking into the bar to get that fish! But, it was for my Grandparents and I would do anything for them. To this day, I still hate walking into bars. (LOL) Also, during my 2 year stint at Holy Trinity School, the women at the church next door (St. Mark’s I believe) would make Pierogies & Chedegi’s (don’t know the correct spelling of that) every Friday. They were the “ABSOLUTE BEST” I’ve ever had. We would go there for lunch and stuff ourselves with their sumptuous creations. God Bless those women. I miss them!

  6. Laurine E. says:

    “Fat Tuesday” was originally the day that you took all the “good stuff” and used it all up since it would not last the 6 weeks of Lent. Nowadays people do overindulge on the thing(s) they are giving up for Lent. A lot of non-Catholic churches have pancake dinners on Tuesday because you were supposed to give up leavening (I think) so pancakes during Lent were very flat.

    I love “fish frys” during Lent. St. Theresa’s in Munhall has a fantastic menu. Boonda’s Pizza Shop in Duquesne Village has a fresh fish sandwich that is very good and Italian Village (a number of locations) has a “Codzilla” Sandwich (which is 2 huge pieces of fish on a half hoagie with pizza cheese) to die for. Now that I am spending time in Coraopolis, I am looking forward to finding which churches around here have the best fish sandwiches. (I know Lent is a solemn season preparing us for Holy week, but come on – who doesn’t look forward to all the fish (and seafood) dinners every Friday???)

  7. Those fish sandwiches were great! My dad would bring home two of them. They were so huge mom would take some fish out of the sandwiches, put it on another roll and there was enough to feed six of us. One of my favorite food memories is when I was in high school in 1958-61. One of the churches (maybe someone remembers if it was Holy Trinity or St Hedwig) served perogies on Fridays. We would go for lunch; 50 cents was all you needed for 12 perogies, a glass of milk, and a fried dough knot with powdered sugar. Yes, $.50!

    • Jim says:

      Joanne, I had forgotten about the dough knows. They were called ceregi! Also, the other delight was the sweetbread with raisins called paska! YUM.
      Paska Bread ceregi

    • Colleen Byrne Travis says:

      I think that was Saint Peter and Paul before and after they moved up to Kennedy Avenue. We would walk there from Holy Name at lunch during lent and eat Pierogies. Here we were these Irish kids from Holy Name eating Pierogies. They were made by the ladies from the church every Friday in Lent.

  8. Barry Long says:

    I was at a dance near Burns Heights on a Friday when I was asked to go to a BAR on Percilla St;? to get 6 fish sandwiches & mine would be free. Such a deal. I was introduced to TABASCO, & Fish, & Clam Chowder was never the same after unless I had Tabasco to add to it.

    • Colleen Byrne Travis says:

      My mother would call the Croation Club ( this was after they moved to upper Grant Avenue) and order fish sandwiches on Fridays in Lent. My brother, Tommy would drive to the Cro Club and I would go into the club to pick up the sandwiches. He is ten years older than me, so I am thinking that I was about seven years old. There was Mrs. Salopec and Mrs Lokmer (her name was Rose). breading and frying the fish. They were GIANT fish sandwiches and they cost thirty cents a piece!!!! To this day I still love a great fish sandwich, but haven’t found one that can compare to the Cro Club or Huckster’. The Village Tavern in Duquesne Annex had a great FS, too. I think the fish sandwiches at the Cro Club at the time were THIRTY CENTS!!!!

  9. Jim Hartman says:

    I remember that we had a small metal can with a coin slot on the top. Can was the size of a tuna can. It was printed purple and white and the donations were for the missions. Everytime we broke one of Lenten promises we had to make a donation to the “can.”

    • Colleen Byrne Travis says:

      Jim, I think your were James Hartman . Were you in my brother, Patrick’s class at Holy Name?

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