Dolores Park has opened for Bob Hope, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Phyllis Diller and has sung for two presidents of the United States.

On the verge of a full-blown country music career, tragedy struck a friend. She spoke with features correspondent Tim Drake about her decision to give her talents solely to Catholic music.

Drake: Tell me about your family growing up.

I come from a “Leave it to Beaver” Catholic family. I am the youngest of six children and grew up in Garden Grove, Calif., where I lived all my life in the same home. My father was a dentist, my mother was a loving housewife, and my parents were married for more than 40 years.

We never missed Mass on Sunday, and we were never late for Church. My dad would always say, “You don't want Jesus to be late when you die, do you?”

To what do you credit your strong faith?

My parents, and in the way we were raised. That is why my husband and I realize that if we raise our children to be strong in the Catholic faith and root them in Scripture and the Catechism we know that this will be the key to a happy and holy life.

Have you always been a singer?

Yes, I did my first solo when I was in fourth grade. I remember another student telling me, “Hey, you sing good, girl!”

At that moment I knew that I did not want to do anything else.

I had no idea it would lead me to what I am doing now. People would often tell me I should sing religious music. I would respond, “I am going to sing country music and use that to reach people.”

If you had told me that I was going to sing only for God and record Catholic music I would have said,You're crazy, there are no Catholic record stores.” Yet little did I know there is Catholic music and I am so proud to be a part of it.

Do you come from a musical family?

Everyone in my family sings,though not professionally. My mother sang operatically, but did not want to ursue the business. She wanted to marry my daddy and have lots children.

My career started when my father shared a tape with a friend who had come into town. They, in turn, hared it with Bob Hope. Five days later, at the age of 18, I was flying to do a Christmas special with Bob Hope in Houston, Texas. My father wanted me to be a choral teacher, but when I began traveling and performing with Bob Hope, I knew God had different plans for me.

You were on the verge of a fullblown country music career. What led to your decision to sing Catholic music?

It was through the death of my girlfriend's son, as a result of a gun accident, that led me to change my focus.

When I was with the mother in his room, I realized in a moment that everything in his room was still there, is schoolbooks and his sports stuff, but he was gone.

I realized that the only thing that matters is your soul, it is the only thing that lives — and my whole life changed in that one moment. Suddenly my country music career seemed insignificant. There was nothing else for me. Thinking about my own sons convinced me that the state of our souls was the only thing that mattered.

My husband and I discussed and prayed about our priorities and decided to give everything to God. A few days later my priest asked me to sing at Christmas Mass. Bill Steltemeier, the C.E.O. of EWTN [Eternal Word Television Network], happened to be there and heard me sing.

A month later I was on “Life on the Rock” with host Jeff Cavins. Six months later I came out with my first Catholic album. God was totally in charge of my life.

Why is it important to you to be identified as a Catholic singer rather than a Christian artist?

Would I be able to sing a song about Padre Pio on Christian radio? Could I go on-stage with a crucifix around my neck? Could I sing about Mary or sing with my rosary in my hand? I could not do any of that in Christian music. They would not have let me and I would never leave those things behind.

I have been told, “If you want to make it in the Christian music business, and if you want to be played on Christian radio, don't tell them you are Catholic.” But I do want that to be a part of who I am. It is all of who I am.

Your singing has become a family affair hasn't it?

Yes, my husband John is my manager and my two sons have performed with me. I knew that my boys, Johnny [11] and Joseph [10] always had a voice, but I never wanted them to be in show business. After we left the studio, following my first appearance on “Life on the Rock,” Johnny turned to me and said, “I want to sing now.”

You cannot lie to kids. He saw that I had found my niche and Jesus was there. He saw the truth. My husband will be introducing me, and my boys will be singing with me, at the upcoming Midwest Catholic Family Conference in Wichita, Kan.

I understand that one of your songs, about the Eucharist, didn't make it onto the CD. Tell me about that.

Yes, I had one song about the Eucharist that we had originally included on the album, but it did not clarify the Real Presence. So, we removed the song and remade 2,500 CDs. That is how strongly we feel about what we are doing. We do not want to misinform anyone who listens to the CD.

Can you share any stories of how your music has touched your listeners?

We have received hundreds of email [messages] from listeners. They tell me that they can hear the truth of religion through my music and it touches them in a personal way.

One e-mail that stands out was from a woman and her husband who were not practicing Catholics. She told me that after hearing my song “No Prayer too Small” they started going back to Church. This is what I love about my CD. It's not about me — it's about God.

What do you have planned next?

Well, I have been on EWTN several times and at the end of the summer they will be airing a 30-minute special titled “Backstage with Dolores Park.”

I will perform for two of St. Joseph Communications' Catholic Family Conferences within the year. I look forward to performing at more Catholic Conferences. I am currently in the studio recording a song I wrote about Padre Pio. My hopes and prayers are to sing it at Padre Pio's canonization. My management is currently working on me singing at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, Canada.