Let Us Introduce You: Fr. Gary Seibert, S.J.

Gary G. Seibert S.J. insisted that there are plenty of other faculty members that are so much more interesting, that he had a very simple, boring life, but he agreed to the University News interview anyway, opening his door with a gracious laugh and then sitting back on his chair, relaxing.

“I always tell my students to relax,” he said, intertwining a set of relaxed fingers, one bandaged in an uncomfortable-looking cast.

“It got five shots,” he said. “I was cutting my fingernails, but I guess I cut too close and it got infected. You should have seen it yesterday!”

He answered the interview questions as thoroughly as he seemed to help his students. He said that “there is only one stupid question: the unasked question.”

In addition to being a Jesuit priest, Seibert is a professor of Public Speaking and Audio Visual Script writing as well as acting and directing in the Fine and Performing Arts department.

He began his college education in 1960 at Saint Louis University obtaining a degree in Philosophy and Classics then went to Marquette University for a Master’s Degree in English. He then came back to SLU to study Dogmatic Systematic Theology, which he said is the history of the trinity and the sacraments.

Seibert concluded his studies with a Master of Fine Arts from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, Penn.

He went on to work and live in various places around the world, among them Israel, Ireland, London and Latin America. He has also lived in Haiti, where he said he helped raise money for a group of Haitians. Among all the places where he had worked and lived, he marked New York as where he felt the most comfortable.

“I was working there with a lot of my friends from Carnegie Mellon,” Seibert said. He also said he directed several of plays in New York, but was glad to return to St. Louis, where he had deep roots.

“I grew up in South St. Louis, in a working-class family,” he said of his childhood. “My father was a milkman, but he never complained about his job, because he knew he was providing for his family.”

Seibert explained that getting a job, in his opinion, is not a reason to earn a college education.

“University education should be a time when students learn to think,” he said. “Sometimes kids come to university and they get stupider, because they think they’re here to get a job. But they don’t understand that that’s not why they are here.”

Seibert said encourages an appreciation for the arts and theater. He suggests that, right after teaching students how to think, one of the things a university education should teach is pleasure.

“If you walk by the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts building and do not think it is beautiful, Seibert said of SLU students, “Then you have wasted your time.”

He added that the most memorable attributes of any nation are the arts nurtured by that nation, as well as the actors, like Meryl Streep, but also people like Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I grew up in the 60s when we marched against the war [in Vietnam],” he said, “but no one remembers the war.”

He said he commends SLU students on their qualities of being polite, kind, and courteous, but he advised that they stand up stronger against “certain injustices in the world,” pointing out racism and sexism, specifically.

“We are still as sexist as we were [in the past],” he said. “But we are more hypocritical about it. Yet the glass ceiling is still there.”

He said he wants college students to take on a new mechanism: the default of looking again.

“If you’re at the store and the woman in line is taking too long, and perhaps she doesn’t speak very good English, you tend to get angry,” Seibert said

Instead, what he recommends is to look a second time with a different perspective.

“Maybe she has five kids and is very poor,” Seibert said. “We Americans have seen freedom, but not the opposite. We have seen wealth, but not poverty.”

He said he calls upon SLU students to speak out stronger in the larger realm of society, emphasizing how voting to be an especially important right. He noted that voting among young people dropped by 45 percent this recent election, remarking, jokingly, that it is the reason why the country is being run now by people who don’t know how to laugh.

“When Thomas Jefferson was writing his memorial, he had them write on his tombstone that he was president of the University of Virginia,” Seibert said, adding that this was due to Jefferson’s firm belief that a college education is essential to every man (and woman) to shape their political conscience.

The secret to fulfilling this college education, he suggested with a laugh, “is learning how to write a full sentence that correctly uses the semicolon!”

He said that writing was a most essential skill and a necessary staple for all college students.

“Adolph Hitler,” Seibert said, “knew that the world could be changed by people who could write and speak eloquently.”

While there is no doubt that there may be faculty who are more interesting than Seibert. There are surely few who are nearly as eloquent, influential and dedicated to students.

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