Father Sebastian Miklas needn't climb four steep flights of stairs to reach his spartan attic room that is cold in winter and stifling in summer, but he prefers it that way.
And although his many admirers would give him anything, his main possessions are a few books, an old manual typewriter and an ancient green Datsun that is more rust than metal these days.
Counselor, confessor and confidant to the well-connected and the powerless alike, Father Sebastian, a Franciscan monk of the Capuchin order, is considered by many to be a truly holy man, a special priest who has literally given the shirt off his back in nearly 50 years of working to aid the needy.
Earlier this month, the 70-year-old friar from Wheeling, W. Va., began his final session of teaching at Catholic University where he has been director of adult education for 34 years. Come June, his modest offices in the basement of O'Boyle Hall on the Brookland campus will be vacant. Although officially retired last Dec. 31, he is teaching three courses this spring and working in the office each day.
A firm handshake and ramrod-straight posture reflect the life of rigor. The gentle voice and laughing eyes disarm an anxious visitor. His self-deprecating humor would test his idol, author G.K. Chesterton, but the jokes are funny without sharp barbs. He is perhaps Catholic University's second-best-known personality after the Rev. Gilbert Hartke of drama department fame, but he remains underwhelmed by his own considerable achievements.
Although articulate and open on other subjects, he declined to be interviewed about his career. But his longtime assistant Celka Prescott commented generously with his tacit approval.
Father Sebastian is well-known as an economics professor, author, speaker and early local television personality who came to be known as "God's Television Salesman," but his most popular work has been in adult education.
The Division of Adult Education at Catholic, which he founded in 1947, has provided instruction to nearly 125,000 people in courses ranging from remedial reading, grammar and mathematics to such standard noncredit fare as foreign language instruction, art, theology and philosophy.
Originally intended to teach Catholics more about their religion, the adult education division was the first such noncredit program in Washington and one of the first in the nation.
Adult education departments have become increasingly attractive to administrators of financially strapped universities as potentially lucrative profit centers, but Father Sebastian always operates on a break-even premise. Courses at some local colleges may cost nearly $100 but remain less than $50 at Catholic.
Father Sebastian has been able to keep prices low by relying on low overhead, which means frequent 18-hour days for him and acting director Prescott and the help of more than 50 volunteers, including many former students who stuff envelopes, address brochures and deliver them.
"Father has never been a bossy type of boss. There's nothing that he'll ask anyone to do that he won't do himself," said Prescott, his assistant since the program's inception. "He's so easy to get along with. It's always been 'Let's try this,' never 'Do it my way.' People are just naturally attracted to him and his work. That's why the volunteers come and help out because of Father."
Father Sebastian is a former semipro baseball catcher who turned down a major league contract to enter the seminary.
His absence and that of his volunteer corps may mean higher operating costs for Catholic next year.
"By being able to utilize free labor from his dedicated volunteers, Father Sebastian was able to operate with a minimum of paid staff," said Spencer Cosmos, dean of Catholic's University College, which oversees adult education. "It keeps prices low and affordable to anyone in the community."
Cosmos said Catholic "has always had a dual relationship with the community because it is the national university of the Catholic church with thousands of priests and nuns passing through each summer, most without any community ties, but Father Sebastian has done as much as anyone for C.U."
Many question whether the university will be able to reach the same student population served by Father Sebastian and follow the lead of other area schools next year when adult education is assimilated into the Division of Continuing Education. Some fear the days of low-cost courses are over at the university, but Cosmos is not among them.
"Many of the things we've done in continuing ed are based upon Father Sebastian's successes and contacts," Cosmos said. "Everyone we seem to meet at presentations and conferences knows and likes him.
"Some of our programs are profit motivated, but the chief goal of adult education here has always been community service. That's the way it should be and that's the way I hope to keep it."