Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh C.S.C. in his Hesburgh Library officeRev. TheodoreM. Hesburgh, C.S.C.
May 25, 1917-February 26, 2015

NOTRE DAME, Ind. –President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame Rev. Theodore Martin Hesburgh, C.S.C., 97, died Thursday, February 26, 2015 at Holy Cross House, Notre Dame, Ind.

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Rev. John I. Jenkins Remembers Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.

Fr. Hesburgh was born on May 25, 1917, in Syracuse, N.Y. He was the second of the five children to Theodore Bernard and Anne Marie (Murphy) Hesburgh. He graduated from Most Holy Rosary High School in Syracuse in 1934. 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 parish.

He professed his Final Vows with the Congregation of Holy Cross on Aug. 16, 1939, and was ordained on June 24, 1943. Fr. Hesburgh celebrated his 70th Jubilee in May 2013. Upon his death, Fr. Hesburgh was the oldest and longest-serving member of the United States Province of Priests and Brothers.

Fr. Hesburgh attended the University of 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 earned 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.

Fr. Hesburgh served almost all of his life’s work for Holy Cross at Notre Dame. He was appointed a Religion Instructor and Chaplain of World War II veterans following his studies at Catholic University in 1945. He 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.

His commitment to stand by others led Fr. Hesburgh to serve on the Civil Rights Commission. 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 on many occasions 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 received 16 presidential appointments during his lifetime. 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. He was quoted as saying his hope was to fashion Notre Dame into “the place where the Church does its thinking.” 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. Fr. Hesburgh realized his dream of becoming a Navy Chaplain when he was recognized as an Honorary Navy Chaplain on April 17, 2013, by Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd, Chief of Navy Chaplains.

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. She was inspired by a lecture Fr. Hesburgh gave in 1985 on halting the nuclear arms race and she donated $6 million to establish the institute. 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 received several Papal appointments throughout his lifetime. These included:

  • 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.

Fr. Hesburgh’s love of the Eucharist was evident throughout his life with his celebration of daily Mass. This continued even after he retired with him celebrating Mass in the private chapel of his 13th floor office in the Hesburgh Library. He also read his breviary and prayed the Rosary daily. He spoke five languages, traveled extensively, was a voracious reader and fond of fishing. Fr. Hesburgh continued to work even during his retirement years through his 90s, going into the office daily.

As a Holy Cross Religious, Fr. Hesburgh’s devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, the Congregation’s patroness, was deep. In all his public discussions on the growth of the University, he always credited Notre Dame’s success to the Blessed Mother.

He was preceded in death by his parents, threesisters Mary, Elizabeth (Betty), and Anne and a nephew, Robert D. O’Neill. Survivors include his younger brother James (Jimmy) and six nieces Maureen Ann O’Neill (Martin McGovern), Elizabeth A. McCaughey, Ann E. Hesburgh, Maureen Hesburgh Ryan, Mary Hesburgh Flaherty (Jay) and Monique Hesburgh Watts and five nephews Michael A. O’Neill, Timothy D. O’Neill, Patrick O’Neill, James M. Hesburgh (Liza) and Christopher W. Hesburgh.

There will be a public visitation at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart from 12-6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3, and again from 9 p.m. Tuesday to 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 4. A wake (by invitation only) will be held Tuesday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m. A Holy Cross funeral Mass (by invitation only) will be held in the Basilica Wednesday, March 4, at 2 p.m. The public is invited for the procession to the cemetery following the funeral. There will also be a tribute in Purcell Pavilion Wednesday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m. Burial will be in the community cemetery at Notre Dame. Kaniewski Funeral Home, South Bend, is in charge of the arrangements.

Memorial contributions in support of the mission and ministries of the Congregation of Holy Cross can be made to: United States Province of Priests and Brothers, Office of Development, P.O. Box 765, Notre Dame, IN 46556-0765 or online

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