CLEVELAND - He is a network administrator on the faulty of the school, but for several weeks a year, Richard Salem is working over a hot stove in the school. His sleeves are rolled to the elbow and he is eyeing the basket of fish which is frying on his cooker. The Benedictine High School teacher is the coordinator of fish fries during the Lent season at the school. He knows before the evening is over hundreds of people will be lined at the schoolhouse cafeteria door, ready to buy fried fish dinners.
During the season of Lent, that several-weeks period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, Fridays are days many Christian faithful abstain from eating meat. Lent is a time of deep reflection, prayer and repentance. In Catholic communities, Lent is observed with fish fries.
Benedictine is a Catholic high school on the Southeast side of Cleveland. Salem knows his way both around the school where he teaches and its kitchen. He has seen many fish fries at the school. "My first was when I was a freshman here in 1987," said Salem, while he was lifting a box of frozen fish filets from the large cafeteria freezer.
Helping with the evening meal are many of the seniors at the school. With the usual schoolboy excitement as the week of classes began to wind down, the students showed an exuberance as they moved quickly in the cafeteria. Some were placing cloths on the tables. Others were helping Salem pull potatoes from their holding spots. The fish dinners will be accompanied by several sides.
"We have fried fish dinners which consist of two fried fish and we have shrimp dinners," said Colin Denbow, senior. "Each of these come with your choice of sides," he added.
The signs outside the school advertise the dinners are open to the public. There is minima cost for the dinners. However, the cafeteria becomes a place of impromptu celebration as people stand in line for the dinners, which they may take home or eat in the school cafeteria.
Just as the cafeteria is filled with excited voices during the school day when the boys of Benedictine are at lunch, there is a similar sound with others who have come for the fish fry. Nearby is Rev. Bede Kotlinski, teacher of modern and classical languages at the school. In his clerical collar, Rev. Kotlinski spoke emphatically of the Biblical history which is part of the fish dinner.
"Meat was the food for the rich," said Rev. Kotlinski. "So they wanted everyone to go to peasant fare -- eat poor and give the money that they would have spent to the poor." The Catholic priest said "Fish was a good substitute."
Since those Biblical times, the fish fry has become a part of religious culture.
At Benedictine, the fish is frying on Fridays. There is a lot of activities as the students and teachers help prepare the meal which will be eaten by those who come through the doors of the cafeteria during the season of Lent.
Throughout Christianity, there have been many references to fish and fishermen. The Bible is filled with stories about fishermen and faith. So the boys at Benedictine High School are helping with the Lenten season fish fries. However, something beyond that is also taking place
"The boys are learning big service lessons." said Rev. Kotlinski, his eyes looking over the tops of his glasses as he watched the youngsters helping out in the cafeteria. "Others times during the school year, they go out and help feed the poor, as well," he added.
A story from a Friday evening fish fry at Benedictine High School. But when you look deeper into the scene, you will find more than that.