Allen Novotny, president of Gonzaga College High, dies at 58

The Rev. Allen Novotny, a Jesuit priest who held posts at Loyola Blakefield and Loyola University Maryland before becoming the president of Washington's Gonzaga College High School, was found dead at his order's District of Columbia residence Wednesday. He was 58.

The Rev. Thomas Clifford, a fellow Jesuit and pastor of St. Aloysius Church in Washington, said Father Novotny had complained of flulike symptoms Monday and spent Tuesday in his room. An autopsy is being performed.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Dean Street in Highlandtown, Father Novotny attended Sacred Heart of Jesus School and was a 1970 graduate of Loyola High School, now Loyola Blakefield. There, he was editor of the school newspaper and was active in the student government. Friends said he excelled academically.

"As a student, he showed all the signs of leadership," said a fellow Jesuit, the Rev. Leo A. Murray, an associate at Holy Trinity parish in Georgetown. "He was active politically, bright academically and well organized. His death is sad for his family, the school and the Jesuit community."

He entered the Society of Jesus after graduating from high school. He initially studied at the order's seminary in Wernersville, Pa., and earned a bachelor's degree at Fordham University in the Bronx. He then received a Fulbright Fellowship for additional study in the German language at the University of Heidelberg.

He taught at Loyola Blakefield before his 1982 ordination. He was also the school's dean of students and handled disciplinary matters.

"He was clever with words and had a wonderfully dry sense of humor," said Joseph Brune, the school's former football coach and an English teacher. "He liked people and enjoyed being around them. He was also a great proponent of athletics."

At Baltimore's Loyola University, he was a campus chaplain and an assistant director of resident life. While there he earned master's degrees in pastoral counseling and in business administration. He also had a divinity degree from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.

From 1990 to 1994, he was rector of the Jesuit community at Loyola Blakefield and a German teacher. He often spent his summers at his order's Gonzaga Villa in Cape May, N.J. There he enjoyed cutting the grass and landscaping the property, as well as welcoming vacationing Jesuits.

"He was a good host," said the Rev. Thomas A. Pesci, a friend who is president of Loyola Blakefield. "He presided over a full table and would always have drinks and hors d'oeuvres on the porch. He was fond of lemon meringue pie for dessert."

Father Novotny became president of Gonzaga, a high school on Washington's North Capitol Street just west of Union Station, in 1994.

"He had a sense of history which guided him when he renovated the school buildings here," said Father Clifford, his colleague. "He had an eye for meticulous detail. He also had a phenomenal memory for names, who people were and things about them. He wrote inspiring letters to parents."

Father Clifford said he was initially skeptical when Father Novotny set an initial fundraising goal of $20 million in 1998 to renovate his school.

"And yet he raised it in a year and a half," Father Clifford said. "He wouldn't let go until things were just right."

Father Novotny presided over the renovation of buildings constructed in 1903 and 1919 and had a student center built in a former courtyard. The all-male school has a student body of 960.

"He was articulate, smart and gracious and led a very successful campaign to make Gonzaga a strong school," said the Rev. William J. Watters, a Jesuit who is pastor of St. Ignatius Church on Calvert Street in Baltimore. "He was compelling in his ability to articulate the mission of Gonzaga as a Jesuit school. He was deeply respected before parents and students and yet he was personally modest and shy. But when the role put him in the limelight, he was winning and convincing."

Others sought his advice and listened to his thoughts.

"He was a good sounding board," said John Weetenkamp, a friend who is on the Blakefield faculty. "He also loved bantering with people. He would flash that smile of his that indicated you should not take things too seriously."

Friends said Father Novotny was a racquetball player and also rode a bicycle. They said he would disappear from his office in the afternoon and spend 90 minutes riding his bike on the National Mall.

Plans for a funeral Mass are incomplete.

Survivors include two sisters, Clare Davenport of White Marsh and Jean Zeller of Joppa.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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