Fr. Hesburgh Celebrates 70 Years of Ordination

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., is one of 22 members of Holy Cross celebrating anniversaries of Ordination or Religious Profession during this year’s Jubilee.

The Jubilee Mass will be at 4 p.m. Friday, May 24, 2013, at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

Fr. Hesburgh will also be celebrating his 96th birthday. He is currently the oldest and longest-serving priest of the United States Province. Fr. Hesburgh was born May 25, 1917, in Syracuse, N.Y. He knew from a young age he wanted to be a priest. When he was an eighth grader and an altar boy at Most Holy Rosary Parish, Rev. Tom Duffy, C.S.C., and three other Holy Cross missionaries visited Fr. Hesburgh’s church. That visit was his inspiration to join Holy Cross.

Looking forward to his Jubilee celebration and looking back over his years as a Holy Cross priest, Fr. Hesburgh fondly recounted, “I don’t know why God does what God does,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be a priest. Once I came here [the University of Notre Dame], I didn’t want to do anything but be a Holy Cross priest.” Hear more from Fr. Hesburgh on his vocation story by watching the video to the right, courtesy of Holy Cross apostolate Family Theater Productions.

Fr. Hesburgh was received into the Congregation on Aug. 15, 1935. He made his First Profession of Vows on Aug. 16, 1936. He professed his Final Vows on Aug. 16, 1939, and was Ordained on June 24, 1943. Fr. Hesburgh attended Notre Dame from 1934 to 1937 and then was sent to Rome to study theology at the Gregorian University. He graduated from the Gregorian with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1939.

Fr. Hesburgh’s long-time service to the University of Notre Dame might not have happened had he been allowed to join the Navy and serve during World War II. After Ordination in 1943, Fr. Hesburgh wanted to become a Navy Chaplain. Instead, he went onto to continue his formation education earning a doctorate in sacred theology from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1945. This became the first of many degrees Fr. Hesburgh would receive: He has the distinction of having received 150 honorary degrees, a Guinness World Record.

In 1945 after completing his degree at Catholic University, he returned to Notre Dame and was able to assist the returning veterans as the Religion Instructor and Chaplain of World War II veterans and married veterans living in Vetville at Notre Dame. He then became Rector of Farley Hall and Chairman of the Religion Department in 1948 and was named Executive Vice President in 1949. He became the University’s 15th President in 1952 at the age of 35, a position he held for 35 years – the longest serving President of Notre Dame.

GPHS 3/: Rev

His commitment to stand by others led Fr. Hesburgh to serve on the Civil Rights Commission – one of 16 presidential appointments – and he is seen as a principal proponent of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Fr. Hesburgh knew Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. well and worked with him in advancing the cause of integration in the United States. For his role in the civil rights movement, Fr. Hesburgh was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1964 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2000. He also was given the inaugural Gerald R. Ford Award for leadership in intercollegiate athletics by the NCAA in 2004.

In his assignment as President of Notre Dame, Fr. Hesburgh brought that same dedication to equality by increasing financial aid for students and opening the University to female students in 1972. He is credited with making the University the nation and world’s most renowned Catholic higher education institution. Fr. Hesburgh also chaired the International Federation of Catholic Universities, which redefined the nature of the contemporary Catholic university.

In 2006, Fr. Hesburgh was given the Sachem Award, Indiana’s highest honor, in recognition of a lifetime of excellence and moral virtue that brought credit and honor to the state. In 2010, he was one of 100 recipients of a Centennial Medal from Catholic Charities USA for his work on behalf of the poor.

Kroc 20th Anniversary Mass 2006

Fr. Hesburgh founded the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame with Philanthropist Joan Kroc, wife of the late founder of McDonald’s Corp. Fr. Hesburgh also served as honorary chairman of the fundraising campaign for the South Bend Salvation Army’s Kroc Community Center, which opened in 2012 and was built by securing a grant from the Kroc Foundation and monies left by Mrs. Kroc to Salvation Army locations across the nation upon her death.

Fr. Hesburgh has received several Papal appointments, including:

  • Permanent Vatican City representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, from 1956 to 1970;
  • Head of the Vatican representatives attending the 20th anniversary of the United Nations’ human rights declaration in Tehran, Iran, in 1968;
  • At the request of Pope Paul VI, Fr. Hesburgh spearheaded the construction of the Tantur Institute for Ecumenical Studies in Jerusalem in 1972;
  • Member of the Holy See’s United Nations delegation in 1974; and
  • Pontifical Council for Culture, 1983.

Father Hesburgh named Navy Chaplain

On April 17, 2013 at the age of 95, Fr. Hesburgh’s long-time dream of becoming Navy Chaplain finally became a reality. Rear Admiral Mark L. Tidd, Chief of Navy Chaplains, declared Fr. Hesburgh an honorary Navy Chaplain at a ceremony at Notre Dame. Read more about Fr. Hesburgh’s latest honor.

Fr. Hesburgh remains active. He resides at Holy Cross House in Notre Dame, Ind., and continues to work daily in his office in the 13th floor of the Hesburgh Library on campus of Notre Dame. Fr. Hesburgh also finds time to fish, his favorite past-time.

The Fr. Hesburgh video clip was taken from “God, Country, Notre Dame: The Story of Fr. Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C.,” courtesy of Holy Cross apostolate Family Theater Productions. Hear more about Fr. Hesburgh’s formation story,“Spiritual Boot Bamp,” at the former Holy Cross Novitiate in Rolling Prairie, Ind. To learn more about Holy Cross Vocations, visit

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