Alumni Association of The Pontifical North American College

Spring Peter Kovarik




Last Friday's beautiful weather seemed perfect for the Rev. Peter Kovarik to log a few hours of flight time in the Cessna 170B he shared with another owner, but something went wrong after he took off around 11 a.m. from the Black Hills Airport-Clyde Ice Field.

Kovarik, 50, and his plane never returned. His absence went unnoticed until Saturday, when he missed Mass at Saint Patrick Church in Lead.

By then, weather conditions prevented the South Dakota Civil Air Patrol from launching a search. Kovarik's aircraft was found Sunday, about 30 miles north of Alzada, Mont., in a rugged area known as Finger Buttes

The aircraft had nosed into the ground and flipped over, killing Kovarik, according to Carter County Sheriff Neil Kittlemann.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

The key to finding the crash site was the aircraft's emergency beacon, known as an ELT, which gives off an electronic impulse. Civil Air Patrol aircraft from South Dakota and Wyoming used special onboard sensors to pick up the signal and triangulate a location.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1991, Kovarik learned to fly while he was serving parishes in Timber Lake, Isabel and Trail City, Marge Kovarik said.

Over the years, Kovarik owned planes with several people. He occasionally parked the 63-year-old Cessna at the airport near Spearfish, according to Ted Miller of Black Hills Aero. It was well-cared for, he said.

Kovarik's death is a tragic loss for the Diocese of Rapid City, Bishop Robert Gruss said Monday. During his 23 years as a priest, Kovarik served many congregations and touched a lot of people, the bishop said. In addition to serving as priest for Saint Patrick parish, Kovarik also served Saint Ambrose Church in Deadwood.

Kovarik was gregarious and well-loved wherever he went, Gruss said. He was passionate about his faith, flying and the outdoors.

A graduate of St. Martin's Academy, Kovarik studied at South Dakota School of Mines before deciding to explore the priesthood, Marge Kovarik said.

Richard and Marge Kovarik were surprised by their son's calling, but they were pleased with his decision. He was ordained in Rapid City in June 1991.

During his 12 years serving parishes in Hot Springs, Custer and Edgemont, Peter Kovarik was a "good shepherd" to his congregations, according to Joyce Bussmus of Hot Springs.

Peter Kovarik developed a fondness for Italian cooking during a sabbatical to Rome several years ago, according to his mother. He fell in love with the little family restaurants in the mountain villages.

"He was very active in the parish," Apa said. Kovarik often entertained at the rectory to give people a place to gather and talk. He also started serving breakfast after the Friday morning Mass, doing all the cooking.

"He was a very passionate, caring person who was good at taking care of his church flock," Apa said.

Kovarik died doing what he loved to do, in an area where he loved to fly, and he did not fear death, Gruss said.

"He will be remembered as one who loved the Lord and was in love with his priesthood," Gruss said. "He was serious, but he had a lot of fun as well. He will be deeply missed by all of us."

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