The call came one recent afternoon, from Father Flynn, with word that a dear friend of people from far and wide had passed from our midst. “Father Perk died today,” he said. The news shook me.
Father Perk was 89, going on 90 on Christmas Eve, yes. But Father Perk seemed so young at heart, so vibrant and full of life, and he would be saying, “Linda, we all die -- we leave this earthly life when our Heavenly Father calls us home, when it’s time.” And then he would smile, gesture with his hands and say quietly, “Remember that.” It would be as on Good Friday, when he would place the ashes in a cross formation on our foreheads and speak the solemn words, “and to dust you shall return.”
They are -- in the words of Father Perk -- such “beautiful” words, and a word he used often in his homilies and his conversations. And I would borrow his words, when welcoming guests on Memorial Day to the “beautiful Gilbert Cemetery.”
Father Perk was comfortable to be around. He put on no air of superiority, for he had come from humble beginnings, born to a Croatian immigrant father and Slovenian mother. And he once said to me, that when he was at the seminary studying to be a priest, he worked to raise the money for his training, for he did not expect someone else to pay. He did not regard himself as a man of superiority. He was a priest of the people -- one only needs to think of the lively Polka Mass.
Father Flynn said of Father Perk, he often “visited people in their homes and nursing homes. He was usually quite humorous and was the last of a colorful generation of priests in our diocese. He was never dull and enjoyed controversy. We are much poorer today at his passing.”
Father Flynn’s words are so true:
The Rev. Frank Perkovich did visit people in their homes and nursing home. While at St. Michael’s Health and Rehab a few years ago, Father Perk visited me, and in the next room he would visit his sister-in-law Dorothy Perkovich. Dorothy, who has since died, spoke very fondly, reverently, of her brother-in-law. He was dear friends with Ken and Sharron Asselin of Gilbert, often a dinner guest at their home, and he put on no pretenses.
As Father Flynn put it, he was “usually quite humorous.” Indeed he was. He would always greet me with a wave and say, “Meet the Press!” and this newspaper girl loved it. Then there was the time many years ago he had called me and got my answering machine instead. The message said “I’m at Maundy Thursday church, so please leave a message.” Good Friday had come and gone, so had Easter, still the message was the same. When Father Perk saw me again, he said, “Boy, I thought us Catholics had long sermons!” Some years later, I would join his funeral choir and then the church, and remarked to him that I appreciated the pageantry of the Mass.
He was in the words of his Chisholm school classmate Betty Klancher Williams “a delightful man to be with... very spiritual but so ordinary.” Profound words to be sure. And Father Flynn said Father Perk “was never dull and enjoyed controversy.” Indeed never dull. His funeral homilies were poignant and captured the essence of the deceased, and often ended with a poem befitting the one who had died -- a mother, a teacher, a soldier, a miner, a father. As for controversy, he was not one to shy away, and if he had an opinion that he wanted you to hear, you heard it.
Father Perk “was the last of a colorful generation of priests in our diocese,” Father Flynn said. Irish-born Rev. Charles Flynn, almost 20 years Father Perk’s junior, is pretty colorful too -- as is the delightful Father Eamonn Boland, also born in Ireland, retired longtime priest at Resurrection Church in Eveleth. There are valuable lessons to be learned, and respected, from the legacy of Father Perk, by us parishioners and by the generation of young priests now serving the faithful.
Father Perk’s visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Rupp Funeral Home in his hometown Chisholm. There will be no funeral, according to the obituary notice, at Father Perk’s wishes. A bittersweet irony, for Father Perk loved such a beautiful farewell as the funeral Mass, and so did those who would come to mourn.
Father Perk, may God bless you as you enter your heavenly home and may the angels sing at a Polka Mass just for you.