The annual fall chickencue at Mary, Mother of the Church was advancing on schedule toward raising money for the La Crosse church’s building fund when the flash flooding that struck several area communities last week hit home, inflicting losses on several members who live in Coon Valley.
The parishioners’ plight prompted another member to suggest to the pastor, the Rev. Brian Konopa, that the proceeds be donated to flood victims, Konopa said.
“As a parish, it would be nice to give to those who are in great need now, and things do not seem to be getting better for them,” the parishioner wrote in an email. “Just a thought on how we can help our neighbors.”
Konopa took the suggestion a step further, sending an email to the chickencue committee saying, in part, “The net profit from the fall chickenque is earmarked for the building fund; however, is it time for us to do a little more for others?”
Konopa referred to a passage from St. James read at Masses Sunday that said, in part, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows.”
In addition, his email noted, “In the homily I mentioned the priority of relationships, especially the afflicted. This weekend, we will have a special collection for local flood victims. Some are members of our parish, and many of us know them by name. But should we do more?”
In that vein, he wrote, “God has blessed our capital campaign, and we really have been Building Our Future Together! I think it’s time for us to stretch ourselves for others in their time of emergent need.”
The committee wholeheartedly embraced the donation suggestion, he said.
“Building Our Future Together” is the theme of the campaign that fostered the addition of a new parish hall at Mary, Mother — a project completed in the spring with not only the new hall but also a lower level with classrooms, a music rehearsal room for the first time, a kindergarten classroom, a smaller room for meetings and additional office space, he said.
The project has particular significance for the parish of 1,000 households because it is the first major initiative since Mary, Mother of the Church was formed with the merger of St. Thomas More and St. Pius X parishes in 2000, Konopa said.
The merger actually was more of a homecoming, as St. Pius X had been created as a branch from St. Thomas More parish in June 1960 because of burgeoning growth at the time.
“The unity that has come from this has amazed people,” the pastor said, adding that more than 80 percent of the parishioners have donated to the campaign and those who were too strapped to contribute financially promised prayers in lieu of money.
“People are so surprised that we have been keeping up with bills” that they couldn’t help but feel the need to help, “seeing people losing their homes” in the flooding, Konopa said.
The spring chickencue served 1,800 dinners, with a net profit of about $10,000, the pastor said. Organizers of the chickencue, serving from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, plan to prepare 2,000 dinners, with the possibility of raising $10,000 or more for flood relief — plus the special collection this weekend, he said.
The chickencue is another beneficiary of the new parish hall, said Bill Brendel, chairman of the dinner committee.
The committee prides itself in the fact that its ’cue is not catered but rather everything is prepared on site, including volunteers grilling and barbecuing at least 1,000 chickens to provide a half-chicken for each dinner this go-round, Brendel said.
The volunteers also will bake 2,000 potatoes in the parish hall’s commercial-grade kitchen, prepare homemade coleslaw and bake beans they will sort and start soaking two days in advance.
On Thursday, they will begin baking beans at 5 a.m., he said, describing the process as “very unique.”
Insisting that he didn’t want to stir a competitive pot with other parishes or organizations — Holy Trinity puts on a fine chickencue, for example — Brendel noted that someone once characterized Mary, Mother’s as “the mother of all chickencues.”
Several businesses order dinners for their employees to be delivered to the work sites, which is no small feat, Brendel said.
The large dining room in the new hall also is a boon to the chickencue, allowing people to eat there and socialize, he said. Previously, the event was basically a drive-thru enterprise, with patrons picking up dinners to eat at home; the carryout option still is available.
The opportunities for volunteers to work together and meet fellow parishioners they otherwise might not and to dine together are benefits in their own right, Brendel said.
“It’s one of the best opportunities throughout the parish to help build community that is so important to parish life,” he said.