Gonzaga, Spokane Remember God's 'Servant' Harry H. Sladich
The communities of Gonzaga University, Spokane and Butte and Anaconda, Mont., gathered Jan. 13 in St. Aloysius Church on the Gonzaga campus to remember and bid a fond adieu to longtime Gonzaga Vice President Harry H. Sladich, 70, who died at his Spokane home Jan. 6 following a courageous battle with prostate cancer.
Gonzaga Vice President Harry H. Sladich
Jan. 9 1938 -- Jan. 6, 2008
At his funeral last Tuesday, concelebrated by a host of Jesuit priests, Gonzaga Chancellor Father Bernard J. Coughlin, S.J., the University’s former president, described Sladich -- who served for a time as executive assistant to Fr. Coughlin -- as a servant in the very best sense of the word, like Jesus Christ was a servant to others.
“I think of Harry as a servant. Mind you, I don’t think of a servant in a demeaning way. Christ was a servant. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,” said Fr. Coughlin, who recalled meeting Sladich when he came to Gonzaga in 1974 from St. Louis University.
“He did anything I asked him to do and whatever it was, he did a good job,” Fr. Coughlin said. “Gonzaga University never had such a good and honest and loyal servant. He was at the disposal of anyone who needed his help. No excuses. It was always, ‘Yes, I’ll do that.’ ”
Sladich was a “fine man” who was “never proud or pretentious” because “deep down, he was a man of God,” said Fr. Coughlin, adding his praise of Sladich was not exaggerated.
“How blessed was Gonzaga University to have Harry Sladich, a servant of God,” Fr. Coughlin said. “When God asked him to suffer (from sickness), Harry’s response was the same, ‘I think I can do that.’ ”
Fr. Coughlin said he had the “blessed opportunity” to be at Sladich’s bedside hours before he died and said Sladich told him, “Yes, Father, I am at peace.”
“Harry is now in God’s hands. Harry and God are one as Christ said it would be,” Fr. Coughlin said. “Well done, good and faithful servant.’”
Gonzaga President Father Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., said Sladich “lived a life of the Beatitudes” always reflecting the life and heart of Christ.
“I can’t think of anyone more humble than Harry. Can you think of anyone more gentle-hearted?,” Fr. Spitzer asked. “Harry always found something good, something kind in the person who was causing the problem. If Harry wasn’t forgiving, I don’t know who was.”
Fr. Spitzer said Sladich’s words to him when he learned of his cancer were: “I don’t know how this is all going to work out. I’m just going to leave it in God’s hands.”
Gonzaga Board of Trustees Chair Don Nelles, who attended Gonzaga as a student with Sladich, spoke of his close friend after remarks by Fathers Coughlin and Spitzer. Nelles quipped that Sladich was always free with advice over the years and one of his favorite pieces of wisdom was to “never follow a Jesuit (speaking) and never, ever follow two Jesuits.”
Nelles made an exception for his good friend that day.
Nelles remembered fondly his days with Sladich at Gonzaga with 16 other classmates from Butte and Anaconda, Mont., dubbed the “Butte Rats.” Nelles joked that he and the other Butte Rats didn’t like Sladich because he was “mature beyond his years,” and because he was committed to his wife Marguerite in college and thus able to avoid all the awkwardness of college dating.
“The biggest problem we had with Harry was that he liked the Jesuits and they liked him,” Nelles kidded.
Turning serious, Nelles said Harry was “the focal point and the glue that held us together. Harry did one thing for us: He gave us all hope.”
Nelles recalled the words of their mutual friend Martin Favero, who was honored at Gonzaga University's 2007 commencement with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
"Marty closed his remarks paying tribute to Harry," Nelles said, preparing to repeat Favero's comments about Sladich. "'You are the consumate Gonzaga graduate. You are the gold standard.' There's no way I can improve on that," Nelles said.
Sladich was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery. He is survived by wife Marguerite and their three children: Harry G. Sladich; Jennifer M. Piani, a 1985 alumna; and Suzanne Heutmaker, a 1989 GU alumna.
Harry was born Jan. 9, 1938, in Anaconda, Mont., and served Gonzaga in more than a dozen professional positions for 46 years. He came to Gonzaga first as a student and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University in 1959 and an MBA in 1967.
He stepped down from full-time service to Gonzaga as vice president of administration and planning in 2001 and was honored then by Gonzaga’s Board of Trustees as Trustee Emeritus. He never stopped serving Gonzaga, though. He continued to serve the University he loved so much part time as vice president until his death. He served as secretary for the Board of Trustees for 28 years.
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