Father Gilbert V. Hartke

Father Gilbert V. Hartke directs his students as they prepare for a production.  He wrote five plays and directed over sixty productions at Catholic University.  Courtesy of The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.


Father Gilbert V. Hartke was the founder of Catholic University’s Department of Speech and Drama.  It was one of the first university drama programs in the country, and immediately became one of the top five drama departments in the country.  Hartke formed the program during a time when drama was not considered a discipline in Catholic universities. He directed over 60 major productions at Catholic University, and several more for the National Players.  He wrote five plays, and toured his students to five continents and all over the United States.

Also known as the “show biz priest”, Father Hartke was not a conventional Dominican friar.  He played an active role in the fight against racial discrimination in Washington.  In addition, he was a close friend to several actors, politicians, and presidents. In 1978, Princess Grace of Monaco visited the university to prepare for poetry reading for the American Wildlife Fund.

What Father Hartke was also known for was his generosity.  When one of his students would no longer have funding for school, he would make sure that they worked for the scholarships and loans he obtained for them.   Susan Serandon worked at the university’s Author: Tiffany Malig

Date: 17 Nov. 2002

business office.  Jon Voight and Philip Bosco built stage scenery. And Henry Gibson worked as Hartke’s chauffeur.  

In October 1981, Father Hartke was named “one of the most powerful men in Washington, D.C.” by the Washingtonian Magazine.  He had a major impact on Catholic theater, and on the people that knew him.

Further reading:

Santo Pietro, Mary Jo. Father Hartke: his life and legacy to the American theater.  Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2002.

Author: Tiffany Malig

Date: 17 Nov. 2002

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