Fr. Harvey: Priest of the Theatre

Author: Fr. Nick Ayo, C.S.C.

Father Arthur Harvey, C.S.C., was ordained at age 40, and he was already a distinguished man of the theatre. He collaborated with Walter Kerr, noted Broadway Theatre Critic, to build a drama program at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where Fr. Harvey finished an advanced degree in 1953.

Fr Art Harvey, CSC

He came to Notre Dame and breathed new, creative, professional life into theatre in Washington Hall. One priest named him “Frank Leahy of the Theatre,” and he did enjoy one season of hit plays after another. More than one generation of Notre Dame students were tutored in drama techniques and in life itself by Fr. Harvey, who put all his mind and heart into directing players and productions. Those who saw his mounting of “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Death of a Salesman” remember his signature accomplishments. He did Shakespeare at Notre Dame, and Broadway musicals at Graduation Time.

For years in the summer a number of Holy Cross priests accompanied Arthur to summer theatre at the Wagon Wheel in Warsaw, Indiana. The director was a gifted faculty member of Northwestern University, and Fr. Harvey was in the thick of things there. We marveled at his evaluation of performances, and his enthusiasm for each and every play was contagious. Fr. Harvey was a perfectionist, and even with food and drink he demanded the best. He liked his coffee hot, and lukewarm was unacceptable.

He loved an annual summer pilgrimage to the theatre festival in Stratford, Ontario. He was friends with actresses Helen Hayes and Irene Dunne. He caught all the new Broadway plays season after season.

Toward the end of his 96 years he was bedridden and fed with a non-gourmet feeding tube for many years. The priest who directed plays and directed the details of his daily life surrendered in a peaceful way his ways to God’s ways. He was an example to us all of “how to go for it” and “how to let go.” I think the real ghost of Washington Hall at Notre Dame is not the Gipper, but a priest with cape thrown back over his shoulders who pounded the boards in pursuit of beauty and truth.

Fr. Nicholas Ayo, C.S.C., taught for many years as a professor in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Along with Fr. Jim Connelly, C.S.C., he profiles some of the heroes in Holy Cross for the Spes Unica blog. Learn more about our heroes in Holy Cross, including our blessed founderand our first canonized saint.   

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