Rangers celebrate Polka Priest's music

by Irene Grahek

Here's a senior boomer if you ever saw one! If there ever was any doubt about the popularity of Polka Priest, Father Frank Perkovich and the Polka Mass, those doubts were dispelled on June 6 in Gilbert at the 50th anniversary of his priesthood. <BR><BR>An estimated crowd of more than 1,200 people attended the event with bus loads from Minneapolis, Duluth, as well as many of us from everywhere on the Iron Range. <BR><BR>Special guests included Archbishop DeLuca from the Vatican in Rome (a close personal friend of Father Perk), bishop Dennis Schnurr of the Duluth Diocese, numerous priests from the diocese and relatives from Slovenia and Canada were in attendance. <BR><BR>Archbishop Deluca was the celebrant at the Polka Mass along with Father Perk, in his new vestment with gold trimhandmade by his cousins from Slovenia and presented to him for his anniversary. <BR><BR>The men's chorus, with singing accompanied by accordian, guitar and drums, was spirited and designed to represent the Slavic feelings of happiness. <BR><BR>The words were changed to fit the liturgy and everyone joined in the singing because the music was familiar, having heard these tunes all their lives.<BR><BR>The Polka Mass was created and originated by Father Perkovich in Eveleth in 1943 and before long, news of this innovation spread across the Range. <BR><BR>By 1983, Father Perk and 85 folks from the Iron Range traveled to Rome to perform for the Pope and to celebrate the 10th anniversary of this special Mass. That group of travelers included Fran and the late Frank Shepel and John Pouchnik. <BR><BR>Frank and John were members of the Joe Cvek Polka Mass singers. They performed for the Pope at the main altar, a first time performance at St. Peter's Basilica. <BR><BR>You can bet all the walnut potica in Ely that was the largest audience or congregation the polka groups ever played for!<BR><BR>For anyone who may have wondered where this idea came from, Father Perkovich took his cue from the Vatican Directive that said church music should reflect the ethnic background and express the feelings of joy and happiness of its people. He explained the music is done tastefully with the words of the church set to a waltz and polka beat. <BR><BR>Simply said, this is church music that comes from the people to the church hierarchy, not from the church officials to the people.<BR><BR>Though Father Perkovich, a very youthful 75, is retiring from the priesthood, it doesn't mean he is retiring from life. <BR><BR>He may be a "Polka Padre without a Parish," but he intends to continue his musical ministry and assist wherever needed and bring his ministry to the street, or wherever three or more people gather. <BR><BR>He also has published a book, "Dancing to Heaven: Story of Father Frank Perkovich, the Polka Priest, as told by his Friends." <BR><BR>By July 15 he will be at "home on the range" in Chisholm, in the family home where he grew up, and I'm sure we will be hearing much more from this very energetic and talented fellow!