Two Tributes to Fr. Sauer

Former SI principal Mario Prietto, SJ, has this to say about Fr. Sauer, who has served as SI’s president since 1979: “No one has taught me more about what it means to be a Jesuit, a priest and a good human being than Tony. He is the best. He is an extraordinary person — not without flaws and a character of the first order — but he is a deeply spiritual man, a great Jesuit, an Irish poet to the core and a man who does not toot his horn even though he has a lot to toot about. You never hear Tony talk about what he has been doing, unlike people in his position who brag about their latest accomplishments. Tony never talks about himself, but when you find out about all the lives he has influenced, all the weddings, baptisms, hospitals and games he goes to, his love is so incredible that it takes my breath away. I get emotional thinking about Tony! He is extraordinary. He is something else.”

Fr. Prietto is not alone in his praise. When Fr. Sauer turned 70 in 2004, the SI faculty surprised him with a tribute book, with letters from teachers whose lives he has touched in profound ways. These letters reflect just why Fr. Sauer succeeds as president and priest. He, like the school itself, has the gift of staying true to core values as well as the flexibility to change with the times. He also has the great gift of looking you in the eyes and making you feel as if you’re the only one who matters. Teachers and students at SI know they have a real friend in Fr. Sauer, not someone merely interested in making them happy. That is why he is the first person they call for baptisms, weddings and funerals, for times of celebration and commiseration. And, unlike some imperial presidents, Fr. Sauer believes in sharing the wealth, empowering all to serve with him as Christ’s ministers.

Among those who celebrated Tony Sauer at the faculty party were Bob Drucker, Phyllis Molinelli, Bobby Gavin and Carole Nickolai. Each offered a moving tribute, two of which are reprinted below.

By Bobby Gavin

My first memory of Tony is my interview with him. I meet Fr. Sauer in his office. It is early in the morning. I am on time. I get into his office and he is just finishing up the act of putting on his collar. His back is to me. “Do you want some coffee, my man?” The memory strikes me as typical of Tony because it was altogether casual and disarming. More importantly, he had a rhythm about his life that others entered into, and that rhythm, that dance, felt comfortable. He was late, but he felt early. I liked him right away. I don’t think he had any questions prepared for me, but we talked without missing a beat, and I walked out of there thinking: If this guy is in charge, I want to work here.

My next memory: Tony greets the new teachers in the campus ministry meeting room. He introduces himself, offers one piece of advice and exits. He says: “Love your students.” I think, “Cool. I can do that.” I attempt to implement the technique during the next week, and my freshman English class turns me into a rag doll for nine months. But at the first Mass I attend where Fr. Sauer is the celebrant, his homily weaves together James Joyce with Bob Dylan. I think to myself: How cool can this guy be?

Let me share a story with you. This last summer, Fr. Sauer, Kevin Feeney ’04 and I were scheduled to attend a Bloomsday event at the Mechanics’ Library. The festivities are hosted by a good friend of mine, and the party is held to honor Joyce’s Ulysses. After it was over, Fr. Sauer insisted that I get him my friend’s name and address so he could send a thank you note. I eventually got around to it, but after I did, my friend Mark had a thank you note in his hand the next day. He called to tell me that the school’s president was “the most courteous man in the world,” but, he added, “I honestly can’t make heads or tails out of any of it.” We all know the experience of this. There is something magical about a Sauer note. You take it to a friend: “What do you think this says? And this here, is this my name?” but you feel that love he recommended from the first day.

It seems effortless, doesn’t it? He might be the hardest working man I know, and yet it truly seems effortless. He seems to be at every SI event, wearing a pair of shorts no matter what the weather and with a lilt in his step. There is a lighthearted joyfulness in the way he carries himself. That lightheartedness transcends his entire life. I marvel at his leadership skills. I have never seen him lose his temper, and he only exercises his power when it is absolutely needed. He has the ability to participate in an English department meeting, and everyone treats him as an equal. Somehow he disarms you of the stigma that he is your boss and a priest. But isn’t that Tony’s great gift?

And he is not a boastful man. Maybe that is why it is so easy to tell him the truth. Fr. Sauer seemed to learn early on that it doesn’t help to let people at a table know that you are the smartest person there. But I’ll bet you he is, and that’s one of his secrets.

Fr. Sauer is truly an educator. If there is one thing he is competitive about, it is the notion of improving himself in the classroom. He refuses to grow old in the classroom. He constantly changes his texts. He takes his student evaluations eminently seriously, and he will tell me: “I know they want more discussion. I’m going to create more discussion.” There is a fire in his belly. Do you know that he has had a 100 percent pass rate with his AP students for at least three years running? Do you know how hard that is to do? It is not luck. Stand outside of Room 109 right at the end of 4th period and you’ll see him in there going over a paper with a student. And he doesn’t pull any punches. “What do you mean with this word? Be concise. Too flabby here.” He takes the necessary time, and they learn how to write.

I love to walk in that room and see a line of poetry scrawled across the blackboard with its scansion marked. Invariably I ask one of my students what it says, and he won’t be quite sure: “It’s Latin I think.” Nobody knows poetry like Tony Sauer. If you want to know where he lives and breathes, it is within poetry. I walked in his office yesterday, and he dashed off a couplet from King Lear to me. “I have somebody coming in a minute,” he said. “The lines you want are ‘as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.’ Okay? Thanks babes.” And it’s time to leave. To him it’s as easy as drinking a glass of milk.

But not milk tonight Fr. Sauer. I invite you all to raise your glasses to this great man. Happy birthday Fr. Sauer. We love you.

By Carole Nickolai

I first met Tony during my interview process quite a long time ago. He put a naïve, nervous young woman at ease, and my meeting with the “President” evolved into a discussion about the role of Ebonics vs. Standard English and the decline of the written word. Referring to a recently graded red-marked paper with a huge “D” on it, Fr. Sauer noted that there was “just no hope. He’ll never learn to write.” He then asked me, “What do you think?” Although my immediate thought was, “Does this mean I’m hired?” I was able to muster some probably obtuse reply. During that brief meeting, Tony treated me not as a mere potential hire, but as a colleague.

I was soon to learn that his ability to shift roles, wear different hats ranging from president to priest, fundraiser to friend, is truly amazing. Over the past years, we’ve seen him strut his stuff as a model on the runway, be the star attraction at the pre-auction photo-shoots, sit attentively in Mrs. Purcell’s cushy leather seat with a clever quip on the tip of his tongue at department meetings and inspire us with his words from the pulpit during “hour with Sauer” Masses. His sermons with multiple literary allusions bring me closer to God. He has sent me birthday cards and letters of support. The bottom line is that he makes me, as well as everyone else here, feel valued. He keeps our community alive and loving.

No one knows this more than his students. Today, no fewer than three of my former students came up to me and said, “I’m so excited to have Fr. Sauer. It’s going to be a great year,” to which I immediately replied, “Yes, it will.” Imagine if we could all inspire such simple optimism in our students merely by handing out a syllabus. Little do those students know what they are in for: the red pen, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and other assorted classical and modern lovelies, especially one of Fr. Sauer’s favorites, Yeats, and his poem, “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop.” Fr. Sauer once explained the poem to me. However, his students read the poem and wonder what’s going on: Who is Jane? Is Jane sleeping with the bishop? Is Jane the bishop? Did they have women bishops back then?

But I know what the poem means. The poem relates specifically to Fr. Sauer, and his connection is not to the bishop, as some of you may think, but to Crazy Jane. Rebutting the bishop, Jane argues that one finds God not from worshipping in a beautiful cathedral, divorced from people, but from living life and experiencing suffering and joy. She says, “For nothing can be sole or whole / That has not been rent.” Tony, you represent that view of spirituality to me, not to say that you are “rent”! You, though, are someone who embodies the essence of our shared humanity, the grittiness of life and the grace of God.