Remembering Fr. Frank Costello, S.J.

by Dale Goodwin (’86)

Fr. Costello was at peace – with himself, his jobs, and his associates. His demeanor reflected that peace – a sunshine wink, a suppressed grin, and the repose of a front porch rocking chair.

Fr. Costello was at peace – with himself, his jobs, and his associates. His demeanor reflected that peace – a sunshine wink, a suppressed grin, and the repose of a front porch rocking chair.

Father Frank Costello, S.J., is one of few who knew every Gonzaga University president since 1935. Heck, he even knew Gonzaga’s first president, Father James Rebmann, S.J. (1886-1890, 1896-1899), who was pastor at the Costello family’s church.

Seventy-seven years a Jesuit, Fr. Costello died May 23. He was 94.

He left the world a better place. “Students remember great teachers as guides who make directional changes in their lives. Father Frank was one such figure for hundreds of political science students who studied at Gonzaga University in the 1970s and ’80s,” says Greg Huckabee (’72, ’76 J.D.), who is chair of entrepreneurship, management, marketing and law in the School of Business at University of South Dakota.

“Frank always wanted to know every student by name, forming a social bond that lasted a lifetime for many of us.”

When Costello came to campus during World War II, only College and DeSmet halls stood watch over the acreage on the north shore of the Spokane River. When he left campus to spend his final year in Los Gatos, California, at the Jesuit care center, Gonzaga boasted 107 buildings, with several new ones on the horizon.

“The overarching impression one has of Father Costello is one of a harmoniously developed priestly gentleman,” wrote Father Pat Ford, S.J., former Gonzaga academic vice president, in the spring 2000 Gonzaga Quarterly.

“It is clear that his priesthood informs every part of his being. He is particularly adroit in helping others discern the movement of the Holy Spirit within their daily lives.”

But as dramatic as Fr. Costello’s priestly impact was on people, so was his impact as a teacher. After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Gonzaga, and earning a master’s at Fordham and a Ph.D. at Georgetown, he taught briefly at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma and at GU, before joining the Seattle University faculty in 1959. After stints as academic and executive vice president at Seattle, he joined the Gonzaga faculty in 1970, and became full professor and chair of the political science department. He taught political science for 20 years here, and served another 10 as University vice president until his retirement in 2000.

JLR_1901“If a student approached Fr. Costello with a question or a problem, Father would listen quietly and respectfully, and help analyze the advantages and disadvantages of competing alternatives,” Fr. Ford said. “He assisted in discovering what was truly in one’s heart, and he affirmed and accepted whatever decision was made.”

Costello was a voracious reader. “He’d chew his way through a book large enough to be a doorstop, in a couple of days,” Fr. Ford said. “And he can quote Jeffersonian writings by the pound. His office was sometimes referred to as the ‘other Jefferson Memorial in the other Washington.’”

Well known as a moderately liberal democrat, he never pushed his beliefs upon his students. However, he relished informed political discussion. Sometimes those discussions included outrageous statements, of which he’d make his share, complete with sweeping gestures and the raucous belly laugh that became his trademark.

Over the years, Fr. Costello was involved in several peace advocacy organizations, including The Catholic Association of International Peace and the World Without War Council. He remained active in the life of the University until his move to Los Gatos in 2015.

He was as genuine as the earth we walk on. He was always interested in one’s story, whether it came from a 6-year-old grandson of one of his former students, or a terminally ill patient preparing for death. As one Jesuit colleague was heard saying, “He is the tenderest Jesuit I know.”

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