Monticello parishioners go around the world in one night

Visiting the busy Filipino Room were Mary Ann Carmine (left) holding the Infant Jesus statue, chairwoman Renee Malaya and Robert Guanzon, holding a favorite dish he prepared.
Visiting the busy Filipino Room were Mary Ann Carmine (left) holding the Infant Jesus statue, chairwoman Renee Malaya and Robert Guanzon, holding a favorite dish he prepared.

MONTICELLO — The 10th annual International Dinner held Jan. 22 at St. Mark Church in Monticello celebrates the diversity of this southeast Arkansas parish.
The brainchild of Father Chet Artysiewicz, GHM, pastor from 2000 through 2006, came following the baptism of Daniel Labro, son of Dante and the late Hillevi Labro, first Filipino parishioners at the church. The couple celebrated the birth of son, Daniel, by serving lechon, a whole roasted pig, and a variety of accompanying dishes unknown to most of the 100 families that make up the parish.
But the popularity of the food not available in local restaurants gave Father Artysiewicz, who is Polish, the idea for an International Dinner at the parish.
Every January parishioners look forward to adobo (chicken and/or pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil and soy sauce), afritada (chicken or pork simmered in a tomato sauce with vegetables), lumpia (fried spring rolls), pancit (noodles), turon, a fried egg roll or phyllo wrapper filled with plantain, rice sweets called biko made with sugar, butter and coconut milk. The popular Philippine Room this year featured a menu of more than 25 dishes to sample.
The Mexican Room featured rice, beans, the ever popular tamales, tacos and flan made by families who make up the second largest ethnic group at the church.
In December the mission church of St. Luke 16 miles away in Warren joined with St. Mark in welcoming Bishop Anthony B. Taylor for the confirmation of 13 youths. The confirmation dinner menu featured both Mexican and American cuisine causing one parishioner to reflect that Filipino, Mexican and Cajun dishes always add interest when dining at St. Mark.
Only 40 miles from the Louisiana border to the south, St. Mark is the parish home to many families with Cajun roots.
“I can’t go home to visit my mama in New Orleans without a list that includes Andouille, a spicy dry smoked sausage, characterized by a coarse-ground texture, or Boudin, a fresh sausage made with green onions, pork and rice. Pig’s blood is sometimes added to produce ‘boudin rouge.’ Then there are the orders for sourdough bread and fresh shrimp for those who make gumbo and etouffee,” parishioner Tricia Nicholson said.
A year ago Cecille Kirby could be seen in the Cajun and Creole Room preparing beignets and coffee for dessert. Kirby and another native Louisiana parishioner, Ray Marcantel, have added Mardi Gras to the list of parish social events and pralines to the table for food events at the church. Kirby’s husband, Kasmir, cooks up crawfish in the season and makes a gumbo the parish is always happy to see him bring to a meal.
Italians like Jo Carson and her sister, Marie Jones, have been contributing lasagna from a recipe that comes from the Le Marche area in the Province of Ancona. Jo and Marie’s father was from Senigallia and mother from Ostra along the Adriatic Sea. Their maiden name is Reginelli.
J.J. Russell of Irish, Norwegian and Italian roots makes eggplant parmesan.
Jim and Judy Foster have donated salmon from a recipe their Scandinavian foreign exchange student gave them that became a family favorite.
Because of the proximity of the University of Arkansas at Monticello, the parish also has members who have moved to the area from California, Illinois, Arizona, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
“Many of us are ‘outlyers’ who come from large urban areas and our different backgrounds and experiences bring our community closer together,” Nancy Stephan, a Chicago native, said.
Stephan and husband, Don, are currently starting a Catholic church in Fulton, Miss., on behalf of Glenmary Home Missioners who were responsible for establishing St. Mark more than 35 years ago. The Diocese of Little Rock took the reins of the church from Glenmary five years ago.
But it is not just the members of St. Mark Church who are unique in a small southern town of under 10,000. Six months ago Father Pius Iwu of Nigeria became pastor of St. Mark and spiced up the dinner with a shrimp dish that was described by those who shared it as “hot” and “delicious.”
“We are truly blessed by the diversity of our church community in Monticello,” Mistye Saffold said. “But I am a native Arkansan so last year I added a little ‘redneck’ food to the mix,” she said with a laugh. “We had moon pies and Vienna sausages.”
Reflecting on her experience as a convert to Catholicism, Saffold said, “We are so much richer as a church community because of the different backgrounds that are brought together here at St. Mark’s.”

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