The Catholic University of America

May 15, 2013

Library Exhibit Honors ‘Show-Biz Priest’

  Hartke Exhibit

Photos and newspaper clippings on display at Mullen Library.

Now through May 31, visitors to the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library can view an exhibit that pays tribute to the founder of CUA’s Department of Drama as part of the department’s 75th anniversary celebration.

“The ‘Show-Biz’ Priest: The Legend and Influence of Father Hartke” on the second floor of the library is dedicated to Rev. Gilbert V. Hartke, (1907-1986), a Dominican priest whose charisma and connections were legendary.

Ordained in 1936, Father Hartke headed the drama department from its founding (as the then-speech and drama department) in 1937 until 1974. He established a professional group called the University Players, which, in 1949, became the National Players, a touring company that provided students with the opportunity to perform across the country and internationally. In 1970, he oversaw the completion of the new campus drama building and theater that bears his name.

“This exhibit focuses very much on who Father knew,” said Gail Beach, chair of the drama department. “He seems to be one of the most charismatic people this planet has ever invented. He charmed people into doing all sorts of things that could have been really difficult. The whole focus of that exhibit is his reach.”

The exhibit includes photographs of Father Hartke with presidents, famous actors, and other personalities. There are photos of the priest posing with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Helen Hayes, and Ginger Rogers. There are pictures of him at the White House with President Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

“According to legend he could park anywhere in D.C. and not get a ticket because everyone in D.C. knew and respected that license plate,” said Megan Reichelt (B.A. 2006), administrative assistant for the department and principal curator of the exhibit.

One of the many scrapbooks of clippings of newspaper reviews that Father Hartke assembled during his years as head of the department is on display, along with some of his personal journals.

“Father Hartke was notoriously good at making relationships with people that worked. It’s touching to know it wasn’t all business. It was about making the personal relationships he formed with people bring out the best in them,” said junior Robert Pike, a student worker in the drama department and an assistant curator.

One photo shows a touring troupe of students with the National Players bundled in coats in a snowy wilderness, where they had entertained members of the military at a U.S. post. There is a signed letter from the secretary of defense thanking the players for visiting troops everywhere from South Korea to the Arctic Circle.

“From the videos and research that I’ve found, he was about educating the whole person, cultivating the whole person. Theatre is not just about getting a specific skill set so you can go out and succeed as an actor. It was a way to explore humanity and to become the best person you could be,” Reichelt said. “He was a huge proponent of the idea of theatre as an exploration of humanness.”



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