Readers respond to the passing on Feb. 26 of Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., former president of the University of Notre Dame and one of the most influential Catholic priests in the history of the church in the United States.
Father Ted shaped my alma mater and by so doing shaped my life. He pushed for women joining the Notre Dame student body. I was a freshman the third year there were women on campus. He was one of the most humble, dedicated and good priests ever. His social justice teachings will go down in history as some of the most important.
We met Father Ted on a visit to Notre Dame, when my wife was pregnant with our first child. Upon learning she was pregnant and as if on cue, he blessed Susan and our unborn child with these words: “May you grow up to be a child of Jesus.” We sent him photos of the visit, and he took the time to respond in writing. Bea is now 12, growing up beautifully, and probably tires of us telling her that story.
As a student, I had the rare privilege of speaking with Father Ted 20 or so times. First through the peace studies program he started, second through the Center for Social Concerns that he loved, but mostly because I pumped gas for the priests’ fleet of cars. He’d stop me in the Corby Hall foyer with all the car keys and start conversations. “When I met Gorbachev, we talked about President Duarte and emerging democracy in the Communist sphere....” This was terrific and funny, because it showed two fundamental elements of his greatness of character: 1) He treated everyone like they mattered a great deal; and 2) he loved telling stories. After a conversation with Father Hesburgh, you felt as though he radiated history like an electrical current, and he couldn’t keep it bottled up. “How do you find yourself? Give yourself away.” A great man, certainly, but also a good one.