Above: The Family Tree of William Gustave Pollack
Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor
WILLIAM GUSTAVE POLACK (DECEMBER 7, 1890-JUNE 5, 1950)
U.S. Lutheran Minister, Liturgist, and Hymn Writer and Translator
The name of William Gustave Polack came to my attention because I collect hymnals and their companion volumes. More than a decade ago I acquired a copy of The Lutheran Hymnal (1941). More recently I purchased a copy of the Handbook thereto. Then I saw the name of the author of that volume: William Gustave Polack.
Our saint, a son of Herman Adolph Polack (June 10, 1862-April 25, 1930), a native of Crete Township, Illinois, and his German-born wife, Wilhemina “Minnie” Henrietta Carolina Stohs Polack (born circa 1863), entered the world at Wassau, Wisconsin, on December 7, 1890. Herman was a son of the Reverend Wilhelm Gustave Polack (1825-1898), a German emigrant, and Maria Elizabetha Hansz Polack (1834-1922), a native of Alsace. Herman, a school teacher, taught in public schools then in Lutheran parochial schools. He was also an organist, a composer, and a choir director. He composed the tune CLAIRVAUX for the hymn “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee.” Herman also served on the music committee for the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book (1912), the first English-language official hymnal of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), then called the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States (GELSMOOS). At least three hymnals–the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book (1912), The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), and the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (1996)–included that tune. Herman died at Lakewood, Ohio, on April 25, 1930. Attendees at his funeral sang “Jesus the Very Thought of Thee” to the tune CLAIRVAUX.
Our saint became a Lutheran minister. Preparation for ordination included attending Concordia College, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He graduated from seminary in 1914. The Reverend Carl Adolf Frank (1846-1922), founder (in 1882) and first editor (1882-1891) of the Lutheran Witness, ordained Polack and mentored him. From 1914 to 1925 our saint served Trinity Lutheran Church, Evansville, Indiana, as assistant pastor (under Frank) from 1914 to 1921 and as pastor from 1921 to 1925. On August 14, 1914, our saint had married Iona Mary Gick (1891-1971). By the time of the 1920 Census the couple had three children. Three more had joined the family in time for the 1930 Census.
In 1925 Polack became a Professor of Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Louis, teaching liturgics and church history mainly. At that time he became more involved in denominational life. From 1925 to 1950 he served as the Associate Editor of the Lutheran Witness. He edited the Concordia Historical Quarterly from 1927 to 1949, served as the Secretary of the Concordia Historical Institute from 1927 to 1937, and led the organization from 1945 to 1949. Other editorial duties included those for the Concordia Junior Messenger (from 1928 to 1939) and denominational Sunday School literature for young people.
Polack was a leading liturgist in his denomination. In 1929 he became the Chairman of the Committee on Hymnology and Liturgics of the Missouri Synod. The following year he organized the Intersynodical Committee on Hymnology and Liturgics for the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. In that capacity he oversaw the creation of The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), which included twelve of his hymns–three original texts and nine translations.
Polack wrote many books. Among his favorite topics were church history and foreign missions. Some of those volumes were:
- The Building of a Great Church: A Brief History of Our Lutheran Church in America (1926);
- David Livingstone: The Story of a Great Missionary Hero (1929);
- Into All the World: The Story of Lutheran Foreign Missions (1930);
- The Story of Luther (1931);
- Famous Missionary Pioneers (1933);
- The Story of C. F. W. Walther (1935);
- The Lord is My Shepherd (1938);
- Fathers and Founders (1938);
- The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal (1942);
- Rainbow Over Calvary (1943); and
- Beside Still Waters (1950, published posthumously).
Polack died of a brain tumor on June 5, 1950. He was 59 years old. His grave site is at Clear Lake Lutheran Church, Clear Lake, Indiana, which he helped to found (near his cottage) in 1938.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JULY 20, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAMUEL HANSON COX, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND ABOLITIONIST; AND HIS SON, ARTHUR CLEVELAND COXE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS
THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSEGISUS OF FONTANELLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT
THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, AMELIA BLOOMER, SOJOURNER TRUTH, AND HARRIET ROSS TUBMAN, WITNESSES TO CIVIL RIGHTS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS AND WOMEN
THE FEAST OF SAINTS FLAVIAN II OF ANTIOCH AND ELIAS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCHS
Holy God, whose majesty surpasses all human definitions and capacity to grasp,
thank you for those (especially William Gustave Polack)
who have nurtured and encouraged the reverent worship of you.
May their work inspire us to worship you in knowledge, truth, and beauty.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 Chronicles 25:1-8
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
NOVEMBER 27, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR
THE FEAST OF HENRY SLOANE COFFIN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGIAN