St. Augustine Catholic Church in Republic featured on Travel Channel
MARQUETTE — Food has enormous power within a society. It can bring a diverse community together for a common cause, it can build tradition, bridges, and even churches.
St. Augustine Catholic Church in Republic has harnessed the power of food, and for that reason, it is one of several local specialties featured on an episode of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” this week.
The show’s host Andrew Zimmern visited the church last year to film a segment about its popular traditional pasty sale.
The local staple, made with a ground beef and pork, rutabaga, onions and potatoes, has been a primary source of fundraising for the church since 1958.
Sister Margey Schmelzle, pastoral coordinator for the church, said the producers of the show wanted to film the entire process in one day — which was a challenge because the process is normally completed over a period of four days using up to 50 volunteers.
“They wanted to see the process of the pasty sale,” Schmelzle said. “We normally have different crews coming in on different days for different jobs, but we managed.”
Schmelzle said Zimmern participated in parts of the process on the day of filming, and appeared to have researched the history of the area.
“He had a lot of energy and he knew what he was going after subject-wise,” Schmelzle said. “His premise was that it’s the food that is drawing the people together — not in the same way as the mining did — but now it’s the food, it’s the pasties. It’s whatever else the people are doing in the U.P.”
Schmelzle said she is not completely sure how the pasty sale caught the attention of the show’s producers but suspects it was a recent Marquette Monthly article.
“We believe they got that article somehow or from someone and they called us,” Schmelzle said. “When we asked them, they just said they had seen some clippings.”
The congregation has been making pasties using the same recipe for almost 60 years — the church was literally built that way.
Schmelzle said someone in the community came up with the idea to make a local version of the Cornish staple in 1958 as a fundraiser for the new building.
“I think there is a long history here, the recipe actually came from Cornwall, that we use. The family that came from Cornwall brought the recipe with them,” Schmelzle said.
Pasties are also a traditional favorite of with the Finnish people who reside in Republic as well, Schmelzle said.
There was no kitchen facility during the first few years, so church members made the pasties and put them together in the house across the street, Schmelzle said.
“Then they would farm them out to all the neighbors in the whole neighborhood and they would bake them,” Schmelzle said.
Once the pasties were baked, they were collected and brought to the Republic Mine.
“The mine was going very well at that point, and they were their biggest customer,” Schmelzle said. “In fact, some of the old guys still talk about having these wonderful pasties when they worked at the mine.”
The church has been making the pasties, which are in high demand, every November and monthly from January through May ever since.
Schmelzle said the congregation uses the proceeds these days to pay for upkeep of the church, especially in the winter.
“I think really God put the thought of the people trying to raise money for our church, because no matter what other things we did, it never quite came up to the profits that we made from the pasty sale.”
Zimmern spoke of his appreciation for the people of the U.P. in an Esquire article in January.
“There was a great joke that I heard from someone that lived on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which has a couple hundred thousand people living up there. They’re separated from the rest of America by a bridge; there’s only one way on and one way off the U.P. other than boats. He said, ‘We have a running sort of private joke up here on the UP that if the bridge ever fell into Lake Superior, the other 300 million Americans would be cut off from society.’ And I laughed, and then I realized how much truth there was to that, because the people up there in many ways are living a life — you know, they have cable TV and electricity-much like their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. Everything’s about family, everything’s about community, everything’s shared, people check on each other and live in a communal way that is much more recognizable to someone living in 1917 than in 2017,” Zimmern said.
Schmelzle said the church and the community are grateful for the attention to the area, which has shrunk in population since the Republic Mine closed permanently in 1981.
“This is a really big deal for us, because the town is so small, the church is even smaller,” Schmelzle said, “and here we have something that’s made the national news, so to speak.”
Schmelzle said pasties will be available on Saturday. People who would like to purchase them can call Schmelzle herself at 906-376-8475 or Tammy Mattson at 906-376-8143 for more information or to be placed on a waiting list.