The Catholic University of America

April 19, 2013

Archives Promotes Father Hartke Collection


Rev. Gilbert V. Hartke, O.P., left, with the actor James Cagney as they look over a script.

As the Department of Drama prepares for the culmination of its 75th anniversary season, the University Archives is highlighting a collection related to Rev. Gilbert V. Hartke, O.P., the department’s founder.

A biography and items related to Father Hartke that are housed at Catholic University are summarized in the University Archives’ latest finding aid, or online inventory. The collection features his personal and professional correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, notes, and more.

The new finding aid is timely as the drama department will host a gala weekend April 26 and 27 to cap off the 75th anniversary of the department that Father Hartke founded. He is also the subject of “The ‘Show-Biz’ Priest: The Legend and Influence of Father Hartke,” an exhibit on the second floor of the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library that runs through May 31.

Father Hartke (1907-1986) was ordained in 1936 and came to Catholic University that same year. He founded CUA’s speech and drama department (as it was then known) in 1937. He set a heavy performance schedule for students and brought in professional actors, directors, and playwrights to provide training. The department eventually evolved into a nationally recognized program.

Since there were few places to practice theater arts in Washington, D.C., Father Hartke founded a professional group called the University Players, which in 1949 evolved into the touring company, the National Players. He also organized a group of his students into the CUA Players, who traveled the country and to U.S. military bases.

He retired as head of the drama department in 1974.

“What could be more fitting than completing the organization of the Father Gilbert Hartke collection in the Archives to coincide with the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the drama department that he founded?” said John Shepherd, associate archivist.

“Father Hartke was a beloved and iconic figure to generations of University alumni as the smiling personification of Catholic University as well as its cultural ambassador to the wider world.”

Raymond Moore, a junior history major from Exeter, R.I., who has worked in the University Archives for two years, created the finding aid. He said the most interesting thing he learned about Father Hartke was his advocacy in the 1960s and 1970s to build the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Moore, who plans to pursue a career as an archivist, has worked on 18 other finding aids for the University Archives.

The inventory related to Father Hartke is the 158th finding aid (out of 362 total collections) to be completed.

For a list of other finding aids, visit To find out more about accessing collections in the archives, visit



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