REV. THEODORE M. HESBURGH, C.S.C., FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME AND GREGORIAN ALUMNUS, 1917-2015
The Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, the former president of the University of Notre Dame and an alumnus of the Gregorian University, died on February 26, 2015. He was 97.
As an adviser to presidents, special envoy to popes, theologian, author, educator and activist, Father Hesburgh was considered the most influential priest in America for decades. In 1986, when he retired after a record 35 years as president of Notre Dame, a survey of 485 university presidents named him the most effective college president in the country.
"In his historic service to the nation, the church and the world, he was a steadfast champion for human rights, the cause of peace and care for the poor," the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, said in a statement. "Perhaps his greatest influence, though, was on the lives of generations of Notre Dame students, whom he taught, counseled and befriended."
Father Hesburgh held more than a dozen White House appointments under six presidents. For years, he was chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights and of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy.
He was ordained at Notre Dame in 1943, when he was 26. After taking his vows, Father Hesburgh asked to be assigned to an aircraft carrier as a chaplain. Instead, his superiors ordered him to remain on the Notre Dame campus to help teach naval officers who were being sent there for wartime training. He remained at Notre Dame throughout the war and served as chaplain to returning veterans.
Father Hesburgh initially resisted going into administration at Notre Dame, preferring to stay in the classroom. But he was made vice president and assistant to the Notre Dame president, the Rev. John J. Cavanaugh. In 1952, at age 35, he took over as president.
At the time, Notre Dame was a small university regarded as strong in football and weak in just about everything else but theology. Father Hesburgh set out to build up the faculty, upgrade the academic standards and increase the size of the school, which admitted women for the first time in 1972. He became an effective fund-raiser, inheriting a $9 million endowment and increasing it to $350 million. Today, Notre Dame has one of the largest endowments in the nation, exceeding $9 billion.
- Adapted from The New York Times