The History of the Franciscan Cords from Pulaski, Wisconsin
By Tammy (Maroszek) Brzeczkowski
July 20, 2022
Pulaski is well known for its array of musicians and polka bands throughout its history. It is also known for having the largest rural catholic church in the United States, The Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church. Home to the Franciscan Monastery and College. You could say that these ingredients lead to the creation of The Franciscan Cords, a young group of Monks from the Monastery in Pulaski, Wisconsin formed a musical group that performed a wide selection of genres, including rock, folk, pop, and polkas for a variety of audiences from 1961 to around 1969.
The group began as a hobby for Franciscan Brother, Jim Bertler, and Friar James Brojek. Soon others joined in to play music together and found themselves entering fellow friars on special occasions. According to Pam Janssen, retired funeral director of Marnocha Funeral Home, the group received permission from their superiors to start “Guitar Masses”, which happened just after Vatican II. “It aligned at the time with what was happening in the world. For those of us teens and young adults. We were young teens and felt energized by the music in church”, remembers Janssen.
Brother Bonaventure, also known as Jim Bertler, was instrumental in forming the band and said, “We were practicing in the Refractory (the dining area) in the basement of St. Joseph’s Brother School when a well-known businessman overheard the group during a meeting. “We were playing a polka at the time.” Norb Peplinski overheard the group and requested them to play for Polish Sausage Days.” According to Bertler, they set up a haywagon between the school and Assumption BVM Catholic Church and played during the community event. So on July 27, 1964, The Cords played for their first public appearance at Polish Sausage Days, which eventually morphed into Pulaski Polka Days.
Bertler recalls the group playing for special services in the church, area nursing homes, The Green Bay Community Service Center, St. Vincent Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital and even performing for the Bay Settlement Sisters. “The group played on the Dick Rodgers TV Show,” said Bertler. “In fact, some people didn’t like the fact that the religious group played the song, In Heaven, There is No Beer.” Overall, the group was loved by many, and an inspiration to young teenagers and adults. “We wanted to show the kids outside the world that the religious life wasn’t all about prayer. We had fun too.” laughs Bertler in a recent interview. In 1969, they recorded an album through Cuca Records, Spiritual Troubadours. Shortly after that, the Cords recorded two original 45s, each with powerful instrumentals on one side, and “romance” on the flipside. “Trink” was their first single. In 1983, “Ghost Power”, the A-side of their second single, was featured on the legendary “Back From The Grave Vol. 1LP”.
A little more about Cords Founding Member Jim Bertler…
Founding member, Jim Bertler, who was born in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and recalls that he was 10 years old when his parents, Walter and Esther (Becker) Bertler, convinced Jim to take piano lessons from the Manitowoc Conservatory of Music. “I remember lessons cost $1.25 for a half hour,” said Bertler. Bertler attended Washington Junior High (9th grade) and Lincoln High School (10th & 11th) and Sacred Heart Seminary (12th) and then transferred to St. Joseph School for Franciscan Brothers, where he continued his mission of becoming a Franciscan Brother. It was during his high school years, that he picked up the alto saxophone, keyboard, and bass guitar.
The End of the Cords around 1969.
According to the research of the author, Jerry Tokarz, OFM, The Pulaski Franciscans, A History of the Assumption BVM Province 1887-2011, “At its peak, the band consisted of six Brothers (besides Br. Bonaventure) and one candidate from St. Joseph Brothers School: Brs. Kevin Schroeder, Ignatius Kaczprowicz, Matthew Gawlik, Bertin Bieda, Sebastian Nocinski, and lead singer and tambourine man, James Kendzierski. Candidate Timothy Ryan was one of several who filled in as a drummer.” (Tokarz, 2013) The Cords were assisted by non-members of the Franciscans as well throughout the years. Steve Rodgers, a musician who played drums over the years with the Cords, mostly during his Junior and Senior years at Pulaski High School, said “I enjoyed getting to play rock drums, as most of their material was rock and pop, with a few polkas.” He continued, “I got to get out of some high school classes to go play an afternoon concert at some different schools. For a 15-17-year-old guy, that was sometimes nice.” Rodgers also accompanied Brother Bonaventure on drums during the guitar masses at the monastery. A complete list of musicians is provided below. See Exhibit A for a list of Franciscan Cord Musicians as recalled by Br. Bonaventure, AKA, Jim Bertler.
In February 2019, issue 88, The Cords were featured in a national magazine, Shindig. The article Haunted, noted that “The Cords are responsible for a late in the day garage-psych classic – 1970’s harrowing ‘Ghost Power’ – hardley typical of trainee Franciscan monk!” “Ghost Power”, was an instrumental original song that simulated the sounds of a scary ghost train ride that captured young audiences. (Helsing, 2019)
The Franciscan Cords music group folded around 1969 mainly due to transfers of individuals, within the Franciscan order. At the age of 31, Jim Bertler, influenced by Father Louie Franciszek, made a difficult decision to leave the Franciscan brotherhood. Ironically, shortly after, Bertler’s Uncle Louie Hylok, introduced him to the love of his life, Pam during a polka dance at Danceland Ballroom in Anston, Wisconsin. In 1974, they were married, and together raised three children: Greg, Joey, and Christi. Bertler still continues to be active in the Catholic Church, writing and performing music at St. Benedicts Parish in Suamico, Wisconsin where he also resides. “An album ‘The Spirit of Isaiah’ was recorded by the group to help continue to spread the message of God’s love”, declared Bertler.Interview with Jim Bertler
Exhibit A – Cords Members & Personnel
Jim (Bonaventure) Bertler – organ, Sax, bass, vocals
Kevin Schroeder – rhythm guitar, vocals
Steve (Bertin) Bieda – electric accordion
James Francis (Dacian) Kendzierski (tambourine), vocals effects
Matthew Gawlick – 12 string guitar, bass
Earl Hylok – drums, percussion
Non-Members Who Also Performed (per Jim Bertler)
Dave Kozlowski – guitar
Dave Rodgers – bass
Steve Rodgers – drums
Additional Cords Membership Over the Years
Rudolph Stefan (Sebastian) Nocinski – drums, maracas
Kenneth Mach – vocals
Ignatius Paul Kacprowicz – guitar
Gordian Strykowski – clarinet
Christian Szot – accordion
Edward Ladislaus Makowiecki – trombone
Tim Ryan – drums
(2022, July 11). History of The Franciscan Cords, Steve Rodgers.
Brzeczkowski, T., & Brzeczkowski, B. (2022, June 12). The History of the Franciscan Cords – Jim Bertler. personal.
Helsing, L. (2019, February 19). Haunted! Shindig, (88), 30–31.
Tokarz, J. (2013). Part III The Post Vatican II Era. In The pulaski Franciscans: A history of the assumption BVM province, 1887-2011 (pp. 392–393). essay, Franciscan Friars of the Assumption BVM Province, Inc.
(2022, July 11). History of The Franciscan Cords, Steve Rodgers.