By Catherine Nadeau
Special to The Minstrel
“Can I use your phone there? I have to call the police… on you. Haha! I’m just kidding! They’re my ride.”
This was basically my first interaction with Rev. Jerry Schubert, the founder of the DeSales Theatre Department and the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. At the time, I was a freshman, and it was one of my first days working in the box office at the Labuda Center for Performing Arts. Father Schubert was the director for the first show of the season, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and would often stroll around the theater checking in on its inhabitants. The show was wonderful, and I remember the cast members having a high level of respect for Father throughout the entire process. I hoped that one day, I would have the chance to work with him myself.
Soon after the show closed, Father moved to the Salesians’ retreat center in Maryland, but his legacy lived on through opening night Masses, pre-show prayers in the green room and his cherished visits on the Sunday matinee of each production. My next memory with Father Schubert took place on one of these Sundays during the green room prayer for “The Music Man.” I recall the prayer being beautiful and moving, but in particular I remember his closing words: “Give beauty back.” This stopped us all in our tracks and brought us to the realization of our purpose as actors. We are here to give the beauty of life to the audience in a truthful manner, allow that to touch their lives and inspire them to think about the beauty that surrounds them. We returned to our dressing rooms to discover a personalized envelope at each of our stations containing a St. Genesius medal and prayer cards. The tradition is that you must receive your first St. Genesius medal from someone else, and to receive what was for many of us our first medals from such an incredible man was a great honor.
My next memory brings me to that summer, when I worked as the assistant house manager for the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. Father had a ticket to each production and attended each one with his dear friend and caretaker, Sr. Maria. Every time they arrived, the theatre would bloom into a garden of smiles, warmth and admiration for the father of the festival, and he always gave all of that beauty right back to each and every actor, crew member and staff worker. I specifically remember an instance of wheeling Father to the outside handicap entrance to the Schubert Theater. Soon after we got inside the theatre, we both realized he was supposed to be going to the Main Stage Theater, which requires us to go back outside and around the building again. Instead of being annoyed or irritated, he smiled and looked forward to getting to retrace our steps and to literally stop and smell the roses lining the walkway. He looked at me and said, “Shakespeare loved flowers. Now that was a man who appreciated beauty and shared it with the world.”
My final memory of Rev. Schubert is after a performance of this past summer’s production of “Les Misérables.” This was my first professional production, and my family was in attendance that afternoon. I saw him talking with the cast, a moment which I had shared many times before after Act 1 productions, but this time I thought to myself, “He’s not going to care about me. I’m just in the chorus for this one.” Then I remembered that such an idea would be completely out of character for Father. If there was ever a person who believed in the worth of every member of a company, it was him. So I took my mom and grandma past him and all three of us waved, and I said to them, “That’s Father Schubert. He’s the reason I’m here.”
When I heard of Father’s passing, it was before the Sunday matinee of “Merry Christmas, George Bailey.” There was a definite dulling in the usual glow of the Labuda Center that day as everyone in attendance remembered the man who dreamed a dream and made not only his dream, but the dreams of many others come true too. I then realized that many of these students had not had even half of the experience I was able to have with Father Jerry. I consider myself a lucky girl to have been able to get to know not only him, but the values that he preached first hand and take them on as my own.
You don’t have to be an actor or love Shakespeare to give beauty back. Anyone can accept the challenge of sharing the beauty in the world with one another, and, most importantly, thank God for the blessings that he has given you. Beauty is a flower along the walkway. Beauty is a moment on a stage. Beauty is the gift of education, the community of a university, the ability to share the love of Christ with one another. This is what Rev. Schubert taught us. This is what our university was founded upon. This is how our world was created. The mission to give beauty back lies in the hearts of every human, as it is the key to fully engaging in the human experience.
So thank you, Father, for not only sharing this gift with me, but with the community at DeSales, many members of whom I could not possibly imagine life without. You gave a girl from a small town a place to grow into her big dreams and taught her to realize that her dreams have a purpose much higher than a moment in the spotlight. May your spotlight always shine down on us and remind us to spread your message at DeSales and beyond.