Archive for Friday, October 8, 1999


October 8, 1999


St. John's Oktoberfest gives a local Catholic parish the chance to celebrate its German heritage.

Polka Mass.

Got your attention, didn't it?

It's kind of like saying "bluegrass bar mitzvah" -- the two words don't often go together.

But Saturday, Lawrence folks will get the chance to experience an honest-to-goodness polka Mass when St. John the Evangelist Church, 1234 Ky., puts on its third annual St. John's Oktoberfest.

Even with all the beer flowing and bratwursts grilling, this unique Mass has proven to be a highlight of the last two Oktoberfest celebrations.

The Mass at 4:30 p.m. will kick off the Oktoberfest activities, which last until 10:30 p.m.

A word of advice: You'll need to come early if you want to get a seat at the Mass.

"Every year it's packed. People come from all over the area for it," said Tim Keller, event co-chair.

The Ed Gresnick Orchestra -- from Kansas City's ethnic Strawberry Hill neighborhood -- will lead the music during the Mass. All the liturgy will be spoken and sung in German.

Don't come expecting to hear the "Beer Barrel Polka" echoing through the pews, though. Things don't get quite that raucous.

"It's a solemn Mass, but the music is lighter -- not all polka is about passing the beer around," Keller said.

Just as the way the celebration of the liturgy has been adapted to local cultures around the world, so has the music that accompanies it.

"In Germany, they sometimes use music with a polka beat or rhythm to celebrate the Mass. It fits the culture there," the Rev. Charles Polifka, the priest at St. John, explained.

During St. John's annual Fiesta Mexicana event, he pointed out, a mariachi band leads the music for a mariachi Mass.

"The Oktoberfest is a great time to enjoy a kind of ethnic festival. We've had a fiesta for 17 or 18 years now, so we decided to celebrate our German heritage, too.

"We're a very diverse parish here, and Oktoberfest is one way to celebrate that," said Polifka.

The polka Mass is just one feature of the event.

"We put up a big tent, and we'll have live music, dancing and authentic German food like pork schnitzel, brats, sauerkraut and cabbage rolls," Keller said.

"We'll have a biergarten with domestic and micro-brewed beer. And we'll pick out a king and queen of polka -- two people who're dressed in the most authentic German costumes and are the best dancers."

Accordion player Jim Skorija will perform from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., followed by a dance with music by the Ed Gresnick Orchestra from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Bill Keel, a German professor at Kansas University, will teach several German folk songs and lead participants in a sing-along.

There will also be a raffle to win an afghan, a quilt and a basket of German food and wine.

The event is a fund-raiser for St. John School, 1208 Ky., Lawrence's only Catholic school.

"But the biggest thing is just to have a celebration. It's just a great family event for the community, the food's wonderful, and the band plays excellent polka," Keller said.

"What we've always wanted to do is have a lot of fun and raise a little money. That's our goal. If we break even, that's great."

-- Jim Baker's phone message number is 832-7173. His e-mail address is


St. John the Evangelist Church, 1234 Ky., will hold its third annual St. John's Oktoberfest from 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday.

A polka Mass, with music led by the Ed Gresnick Orchestra from Kansas City, will start at 4:30 p.m. in the sanctuary. Accordion player Jim Skorija will perform from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., followed by a dance with live music from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on the St. John School grounds.

The event will feature authentic German food such as pork schnitzel, bratwurst, sauerkraut, German potato salad and cabbage rolls. A beer garden will serve both domestic beer and micro-brews.

There is no charge to enjoy the folk dancing and music.

For more information, call the church at 843-0109.

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