“With our nets and gear we’re faring on the wild and wasteful ocean.

“It’s there that we hunt and earn our bread as we hunt the bonny shoals of herring.”

It isn’t often that I awake to the words or refrain of a song. Yet that is what happened just a few mornings ago. The refrain played over and over again in my semi-conscious mind and I could hear Liam Clancy deliver this refrain, “As we hunt the bonny shoals of herring.” 

Now I have never been a fan of herrings, but I do recall that in my childhood years herring did show up on our family table on occasion. I remember because of my struggles in separating the flesh from the myriad bones. So, herring or no herring, this refrain from Ewan MacColl’s “Shoals of Herring” tends to echo in the recesses of my mind. Perhaps it is a reminder that we are now in the Lenten season and fish may be an item on the menu.

As a child I often accompanied my dad when he went fishing on Sunday afternoons. No, we did not skip church. Dad would carry a very long fishing pole, probably three or four times the length of a standard fishing rod. We always returned home with a couple of pike for the family table. Subsequently, though I did a bit of fishing myself, I was never too successful with my fishing pole.

Visitors to Kalaupapa often ask me whether many of our residents fish the waters here. I answer that some do. Sister Richard of happy memory was known as the Fishing Nun and Sister Barbara Jean fishes on occasion when she can free herself from various chores. Sometimes I have to hold my breath when she stands on the very edge of the dock because, if she were to hook a big one, it might pull her in and I am not known for my water rescue prowess. John Arruda told me today that he once caught a 50-pounder. No, it did not pull him in.

So let us thank the Lord for the fish on our plates during this Lenten season. Thank the Lord for the bountiful catches which help put food on the tables of fishermen’s families. And finally thank the Lord for those brave men and women who plough the wild ocean as they hunt the bonny shoals of herring.

Anchor columnist Father Patrick Killilea, SS.CC., is pastor of St. Francis Parish in Kalaupapa, Hawaii.