OSHKOSH — For 19 years, Friday evening fish fry dinners at St. Raphael the Archangel Parish have been an important Lenten tradition for hundreds of area residents. Ron Bruch currently serves as chairman of the event.
Meals are served from 4:30 to 7 p.m. each Friday during Lent and average about 1,000 visitors of all denominations each week. “When the 4:30 bell goes off, that place is packed,” Bruch said. “We’re putting together a meal every six seconds.”
He said they prepare about 350 to 400 carryout meals and 550 to 600 dine-in meals. “It was a smash success right from the beginning,” Bruch said.
During his working life, Bruch was a fisheries biologist for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “In my last job with the DNR, I was chief of fisheries for the State of Wisconsin,” he said. “I was a supervisor for a long time. I tap into my professional experience and skills with the fish fry.”
He said the fish fry works so well because there are a number of longtime, dedicated volunteers who help lead each crew that serves a specific function for the annual event.
“I try to keep them happily motivated and excited to do this volunteer work,” Bruch said. “I get them what they need and get out of their way. They make this part of their Lenten commitment.”
Forty to 50 families also bring desserts, and seeing the dessert-laden table “is like a piece of heaven,” Bruch said.
Even the parish priests get involved. Fr. Tom Long, pastor, and Fr. Matthew Rappl, associate pastor, “aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves,” Bruch said. “They dig right in delivering food and cleaning dishes. It’s fun to see the priest bussing tables.”
Each event starts off with a prayer, and the whole atmosphere is prayer-filled. “In a big way, a little bit of evangelism is taking place. I think people really enjoy that,” Bruch said.
Food offerings include perch from Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada; other seafood such as haddock and shrimp; macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for children; dessert and milk. Proceeds from the fish fries go into the parish’s general budget and are relied upon each year to support the parish’s missions, music ministry, and Father Carr’s Place2B shelter and free clinic.
Bruch said St. Raphael’s is a vibrant parish and he loves volunteering his services, especially now that he is retired and has more time to devote to volunteer work. He has been a member of the parish since moving to Oshkosh in 1986.
“We were family No. 206, and there now is like 2,500 families in the parish,” he said.
He was a trustee and a member of the finance council that helped raise funds and oversee the process of constructing the parish’s current building. Because Franciscan Courts, the retirement home for the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother congregation, is directly across the street from the parish, Bruch and his wife, Kathy, often volunteer services to the sisters and their facility. Since many of the retired sisters’ native language is German, Bruch is able to carry on conversations with them in German.
“It’s such an enriching experience,” Bruch said. “They’re so faith-filled.”
Bruch also sings in the St. Raphael men’s choir and with a men’s barbershop quartet, Gospel Four, that performs at Communion prayer services at three nursing homes.
“Everything you do as a volunteer is service to the rest of the parish,” Bruch said. “You can give of your time, talents and treasures. It keeps you in tune with your parish and your faith.”