Omaha Keeps Corned Beef Fundraiser, Despite Lent

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A Catholic organization will serve corned beef to about 1,500 people in Omaha on Friday. Catholics normally abstain from eating meat on a Friday during Lent, but the Archbishop of Omaha has granted a dispensation for the fundraiser. Brian Harr of the Hibernians of Omaha, talks with Michele Norris.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

As if you need a reminder, tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. For many it's a day to wear green and head to an Irish pub, whether or not you're Irish. It's also a day to feast on the traditional Irish-American meal, corned beef and cabbage.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

But this year's holiday falls on a Friday within Lent. A season of atonement and sacrifice for Christians. The problem is, Catholics are not supposed to eat meat on Fridays during Lent. So, bishops from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Tucson, Arizona have granted special St. Patrick's Day waivers, allowing corned beef on Friday.

NORRIS: In Omaha, Archbishop Elden Curtisss also granted that dispensation, but only after a robust letter writing campaign stressing the community benefits of a corned beef and cabbage fundraising dinner. Brian Harr helped lead that campaign. He's Chairman of the Day for the Hibernians of Omaha's St. Patrick's Day luncheon. That group plans to serve 1,100 pounds of corned beef tomorrow. Brian Harr says he was surprised when the archbishop initially said this Friday must remain meatless.

Mr. BRIAN HARR (Lead letter writing campaign): We typically get a dispensation kind of as an ordinary course, and we have a new archbishop, and originally he was not going to grant us a dispensation.

NORRIS: What would have happened?

Mr. HARR: That's a very good question. There's no really meatless, typically Irish or Irish-American meal, and there was a dissent among the group as to what we should serve.

NORRIS: What were the options?

Mr. HARR: We contemplated shrimp. We contemplated fish, although there are numerous fish fries around town, so we didn't think people would want fish twice in one day. And kind of had punted until we went and begged one more time to see if we could get a dispensation.

NORRIS: I'm trying to figure out how you lobby the archbishop. It seems like that's something that you have to do very carefully.

Mr. HARR: It is. He's a person who is not used to being questioned, understandably so. And the only way you can do it is really to give him a rational argument as to why we should be granted a dispensation. And he was nice enough to consider our reasons and move forward and grant us a general dispensation.

NORRIS: Well tell us about this annual luncheon.

Mr. HARR: We serve between 1200 and 1500 people. We have the local Irish band perform. And just try to stuff as many people in there and move them through as quickly as possible.

NORRIS: Tell us about the special recipe for corned beef and cabbage.

Mr. HARR: It is beer, a little brown sugar, water, and a lot of patience.

NORRIS: A lot of patience?

Mr. HARR: A lot of patience. It takes two and a half to three hours to boil the corned beef. And when you're making 1100 pounds it takes a long time.

NORRIS: Now, you talked about the corned beef, what about the cabbage?

Mr. HARR: The cabbage will start cooking at 6 AM tomorrow morning.

NORRIS: And is there a special recipe for that, too?

Mr. HARR: It's proprietary.

NORRIS: Oh, you can't share it. Who's doing all this cooking?

Mr. HARR: It's myself and four other loyal volunteers.

NORRIS: Four of you? Only, wait, yourself, that's only five people in that kitchen cooking all this food?

Mr. HARR: It's a small kitchen.

NORRIS: Well, Brian Harr, best of luck to you. Happy St. Patrick's Day, an early happy St. Patrick's Day, to you.

Mr. HARR: Thank you. Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, too.

NORRIS: Brian Harr is Chairman of the Day for the Hibernian's of Omaha, and tomorrow he'll be serving corned beef with the church's blessing.

(Soundbite of music)

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