By Adam Zielonka
This article was originally published in Issue 8, Fiftieth Year of The Minstrel (February 4, 2016). Click here to view the entire issue.
Rev. Gerard J. Schubert, OSFS, the founder of DeSales University’s Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival (PSF) and chair of the Division of Performing Arts from 1969 to 1998, passed away on Dec. 6, 2015 at the age of 86.
Schubert was widely loved by the DeSales theater community and campus at large, so the news of his death evoked poignant reactions from current students, alumni and faculty alike. It became clear that Schubert left indelible marks on many who have passed through Center Valley, such as Class of 2015 theater alumnus Michael Franz.
“To me, he wasn’t ‘Father Schubert,’ the founder who came to all of our Act 1 productions. He was ‘Father Jerry,’ the Yoda to my Luke Skywalker,” said Franz. “He was a man who was willing to provide guidance to a confused young man in search of his path.”
Franz considered himself “fortunate” to perform in the 2012 Act I production “Arsenic and Old Lace” under Schubert’s direction.
“Father Jerry taught me almost as much about theater as my DeSales professors, and he taught me more about the Faith and how it worked hand in hand with the theater,” he said. “He always told me to ‘proclaim the word’ when reading at Mass and to use that in my theater training. Though his body was failing him, he had his sharp wit and brilliant mind until the end.”
Throughout his 30-year teaching career, Schubert taught and directed some students who later returned to DeSales as professors. This includes Dennis Razze, who delivered a speech celebrating Schubert’s life at his funeral in December.
“Jerry Schubert, over the course of the 45 years I knew him, was my teacher, mentor, boss and, after my father’s sudden death in 1977, like a second father to me,” said Razze, chair of the Theater Department and PSF’s associate artistic director. “And as we worked together, we became artistic soulmates and fast friends. He taught me that artists have a spiritual mission and a responsibility to a world that hungered for an understanding of the human experience and our place in the universe. Jerry believed with his entire being that quality theatre did just that.”
Schubert is responsible for founding the program and overseeing construction of the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts. But Anne Lewis, an associate professor of theater and a student of Schubert’s, remembered how his impact reached far beyond the material.
“Jerry made everybody, faculty and students, feel that they were part of something that was much bigger, that we were providing a service for the community,” Lewis said. “Essentially, what I think he believed was that theater was the heartbeat of a society.”
Lewis then recalled a line from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo” that Schubert admired, one that boiled down his philosophy of theater even further: “Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.”
Although Schubert retired in 2001, he stayed a visible gure around Labuda, so the theater program’s current students were familiar with him, too.
“I remember visiting Father Schubert in Maryland with my friend, and talking to him was probably one of the most inspiring moments in my life,” said senior musical theater major Monica Handwerk. “The man was absolutely brilliant and intellectual, and very funny too. I was actually very scared when I went to visit because I had never met him before and this was the first time I had ever talked to him. Talking to him was so easy. It felt like I knew him for years. I went back a second time about a half a year later and he still remembered me.”
“When I heard of Father’s passing, it was before the Sunday matinee of ‘Merry Christmas, George Bailey,’” said Catherine Nadeau, also a senior musical theater major. “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, 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.”