Wharton: Spaghetti tradition at Magna church
It was 1932, near the height of the Great Depression, when several Italian mothers who attended Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church each made their own spaghetti sauce, brought it to the church and mixed them together for a parish dinner.
They probably had no idea that this simple act would turn into an enduring annual tradition that is expected to bring more than 3,000 people from all over northern Utah Sunday to the venerable church hall on a residential street just south of Magna's Main Street.
The parish, which traces its roots back to 1917, is relatively small. That means a good majority of the members volunteer for the big event that raises funds for church projects.
Putting together something this size resembles a military operation.
Kae Parker, who is one of the dinner's leaders along with Brad Bailey, kitchen supervisor Maureen Howe and head salad preparer Debbie McGill, showed me a list with dozens of names on it assigned to various duties.
This is no walk-through-a-buffet type of dinner. Volunteer hostesses seat the diners on long tables decorated with the red, white and green of Italian flags in the hall next to the rock church. Children 10 to 15 years old serve as waiters. Two busboys are assigned to each row of six tables. Men carry huge trays with plates of spaghetti and give them to the hostesses, who put the food on the table. Others make certain there is enough silverware.
A receptionist seats people, some of whom wait in line for up to 30 minutes to get a spot. Other volunteers take care of the coffee and punch. A few volunteers serve people who have ordered the $12 meal ($6 for children) as take-out. Some even drive dinner to shut-ins who would like to be part of the fun but are no longer able to enjoy it.
In the kitchen, cooks using gigantic wooden paddles stir the famous sauce in six large pots.
"The recipe was handed down, and I have no idea what's in it, but I do know what the spices are," said Parker.
Some ingredients would be obvious to all Italian cooks. Those would include basil, tomato paste and garlic. Colosimo's sausage, made by a family whose store has been a Main Street Magna stalwart for years, is a big part of it. Stock from fried and seasoned pork neck bones adds to the flavor. And each order includes two to four "saus-a-lets," which are small Colosimo sausages baked by the hundreds in the week leading up to the big event. Rogers Bakery provides 400 dozen rolls.
Not only is the spaghetti famous, but the event serves as a sort of reunion for dozens of former Magna residents as well as priests from around the Salt Lake diocese. Bishop John Wester is expected to attend, carrying on a tradition began by James Kearney, the diocese's fourth bishop, who was appointed in 1932.
Parker, whose mother, Mary, worked on these dinners, said it is not unusual for patrons to chat together for a couple of hours.
"For a lot of people who come, this is a once-a-year time they see people kind of thing," she said.
As befits a community that volunteers in large numbers for the good of the parish, leftover sauce is often given to Catholic Community Services, the Rescue Mission or parishioners who are struggling to make ends meet.
After all, this is an event that epitomizes the spirit of community and the kindness of giving valuable time for the good of everyone.