Theodore Hesburgh

The Reverend Father
Theodore Hesburgh

Hesburgh in his office at the University of Notre Dame
15th President of the
University of Notre Dame
In office
Preceded by John J Cavanaugh
Succeeded by Edward Malloy
Personal details
Born Theodore Martin Hesburgh
(1917-05-25)May 25, 1917
Syracuse, New York, United States
Died February 26, 2015(2015-02-26) (aged 97)
Notre Dame, Indiana, United States
Alma mater The Catholic University of America
Profession Priest
Religion Roman Catholic
Hesburgh greets President Barack Obama at Notre Dame

Theodore Martin Hesburgh, CSC (May 25, 1917 – February 26, 2015), was a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, was president of the University of Notre Dame for 35 years. He is the namesake for TIAA–CREF's Hesburgh Award.[1]

Early life

Theodore Hesburgh was born in Syracuse, New York to Anne Murphy Hesburgh and Theodore Bernard Hesburgh and had one brother and three sisters. He had wished to become a priest since early childhood.[2] He enrolled at Notre Dame in 1934, but after three years he was relocated to Rome and in 1939 he earned a bachelor of philosophy degree from the Gregorian University. Because he was sent to Rome, Hesburgh never finished his Notre Dame degree. (He obtained it years later, in 1984, when the University awarded him an honorary degree, 32 years after he became university president.) He studied in Rome until he was forced to leave due to the outbreak of World War II. In 1943 he was ordained a priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross at at Notre Dame's Sacred Heart Church, later renamed the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. He graduated from The Catholic University of America in 1945, having earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and taught Religion at Notre Dame. In 1948 he was named head of the Department of Theology. In 1949 Notre Dame president Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C. appointed him executive vice-president and Hesburgh served in that position for three years.[3]

President of Notre Dame

Fr. Hesburgh presents the Laetare Medal to John F. Kennedy

Hesburgh served as Notre Dame's President for 35 years (1952–1987), the longest tenure to date. He supervised dramatic growth, as well as a transition to coeducation in 1972. During his term, the annual operating budget rose by a factor of 18 from $9.7 million to $176.6 million, the endowment rose by a factor of 40 from $9 million to $350 million, and research funding rose by a factor of 20 from $735,000 to $15 million. Enrollment nearly doubled from 4,979 to 9,600, faculty more than doubled 389 to 950, and degrees awarded annually doubled from 1,212 to 2,500.[4][5] In 1967 he turned governance of the University over to a two-tiered, mixed board of lay and religious trustees and fellows.

In 1967, he led an academic movement which issued the so-called Land O'Lakes statement which insisted upon "true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical". According to Rick Perlstein in Nixonland, Hesburgh was considered by George McGovern as his running mate in the 1972 presidential election.[6] McGovern chose Thomas Eagleton.

Hesburgh was a key figure in anti-Vietnam War student activism. After discovering a student plot to burn the Notre Dame campus ROTC building in 1969, Hesburgh issued a letter to the student body outlining the University's stance. The letter was later reprinted by the New York Times and Washington Post.[7] At the request of President Richard Nixon, Hesburgh advised Vice President Spiro Agnew regarding controlling violence on college campuses. Hesburgh generally disagreed with American policy in Vietnam and favored accelerated withdrawal of the troops.[8]

Work in the US government

His career included sixteen presidential appointments involving most major social issues of his time, including civil rights, peaceful uses of atomic energy, campus unrest, Third World development, and immigration reform. In 1953 he created the Distinguished Professors Program to attract top scholars to Notre Dame. In 1954 he was appointed by President Eisenhower to the National Science Board.

Fr. Hesburgh chairs the Civil Rights Committee

Hesburgh served as a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission from 1957 (appointed by president Eisenhower), and Chairman from 1969, until his dismissal by President Richard Nixon in 1972 due to his frequent opposition to Nixon policies. He also served in a number of other posts on government commissions, non-profit organization boards, and Vatican missions, beginning with his appointment to a science commission by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954. He was a contributor to the 1958 analysis of the U.S. education system, The Pursuit of Excellence, commissioned by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund as part of its Special Studies Project.[9]

In 1964 he was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor, by President Johnson. The same year he joined hands with Martin Luther King Jr. in support for civil rights during a rally in Chicago.

From 1977 to 1982 Hesburgh was chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation.[10] President Jimmy Carter appointed him to a blue-ribbon immigration reform commission in 1979; the commission's finding — that any national immigration reform proposals can succeed only if the American national border is properly secured beforehand[11] — was cited by various opponents of illegal immigration to the United States, especially those who are Catholic or sympathetic to Catholic views.

Work for the Holy See

In 1968 he was appointed by Pope Paul VI as head of the Vatican representatives attending the 20th anniversary of the United Nations’ human rights declaration in Tehran, Iran. In 1972 he organized the establishment of the Tantur Institute for Ecumenical Studies in Jerusalem, at the request of Pope Paul VI. In 1974 Paul VI appointed him as a member of the Holy See’s U.N. delegation.

From 1956 until 1970 he served as the permanent Vatican representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

In 1983 he was appointed to the Pontifical Council for Culture by Pope John Paul II.

Later life

In 1994 he was elected to Chair the Harvard Board of Overseers, the first priest to do so.

He was one of the founders of People for the American Way. Hesburgh served on the Knight Commission that overhauled college sports from 1990 to 1996. Hesburgh was a major figure in American politics and Church politics from the 1950s to the 1990s. He was a strong supporter of interfaith dialogue.

Statue of Fr. Hesburgh and his VP Joyce

In 2000 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the first person from higher education to receive the honor. In 2004 he was named the first recipient of the NCAA’s Gerald R. Ford Award for leadership in intercollegiate athletics.

In 2009, he supported the invitation for Barack Obama to speak at Notre Dame, which was controversial because of Obama's strong endorsement of pro-choice legislation.[12]

Hesburgh died on February 26, 2015, aged 97.[13][14] His death, funeral and memorial gained media widespread attention.[15][16][17][18] Attendees and speakers at the memorial included Jimmy Carter, Condoleezza Rice, Lou Holtz, cardinals Theodore McCarrick and Roger Mahony, former senator Harris L. Wofford, governor Mike Pence, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, former senator Alan K. Simpson, senator Joe Donnelly, William G. Bowen, and a video message from Barack Obama.[19][20]

Honors and awards

Hesburgh attained many accomplishments, honors, and awards in his public career and he was "the recipient of over 150 honorary degrees, the most ever awarded to one person."[21] He became the first individual from post-secondary education to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2000.[21][22] He served in over sixteen presidential appointments "involving him in civil rights, peaceful uses of atomic energy, campus unrest, and immigration reform — including the American policy of amnesty for immigrants in the mid-1980s."[21] He was the first priest to be elected to the Board of Overseers at Harvard and for two years served as president of the Harvard Board.[23] He also served as a director for the Chase Manhattan Bank.[21] While serving on the Board of the United States Institute of Peace, he "helped organize a meeting of scientists and representative leaders of six faith traditions who called for the elimination of nuclear weapons."[21] He served as a trustee and later Chairman of the Board of the Rockefeller Foundation.[21] He was appointed as ambassador to the 1979 UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development.[21]

Other awards include:

Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame.

He holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for "Most Honorary Degrees", having been awarded 150.

He also holds the world record for the fastest any civilian has ever flown, having ridden in an Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird at 2,200 MPH as a favor owed to him by President Jimmy Carter.[28]

Hesburgh Library

The University of Notre Dame's library opened on September 18, 1963 as the Memorial Library. It was renamed the Theodore Hesburgh Library after Father Hesburgh in 1987. He had a private office on the thirteenth floor with the Olympic Torch from the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.


The University of Notre Dame has named several buildings and programs after Fr. Hesburgh, including the Hesburgh Library, the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholarship, the Hesburgh Institute for International Studies, the Hesburgh International Scholar Experience, and more.

Honorary degrees

Father Theodore Hesburgh received more than 150 honorary degrees, a world record for most honorary degrees given to one individual. These include:

Honorary degrees
Country Date School Degree
 New York 1954 Le Moyne College [29]
 Illinois 1955 Bradley University
 Chile 1956 Pontifical Catholic University of Chile
 Kansas 1958 St. Benedict's College
 Pennsylvania 1958 Villanova University
 New Hampshire 1958 Dartmouth College
 Rhode Island 1960 University of Rhode Island [30]
 New York 1961 Columbia University
 New Jersey 1961 Princeton University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [31]
 Massachusetts 1962 Brandeis University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [32]
 Indiana 1962 Indiana University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [33]
 Illinois 1963 Northwestern University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [34]
 Pennsylvania 1963 Lafayette College Doctor of Laws (LL.D)
 Austria 1965 University of Vienna Honorary Citizen [35]
 California 1965 University of California Los Angeles
  • UCLA Later imposed a moratorium on awarding honorary degrees.
 Philippines 1965 Saint Louis University
 Washington 1965 Gonzaga University
 Pennsylvania 1965 Temple University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [36]
 Quebec 1965 Université de Montréal
 Illinois 1966 University of Illinois Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [37]
 Georgia (U.S. state) 1966 Atlanta University
 Indiana 1966 Wabash College
 New York 1967 Fordham University
 Indiana 1967 Manchester University
 Indiana 1967 Valparaiso University
 Rhode Island 1968 Providence College
 California 1968 University of Southern California
 Michigan 1968 Michigan State University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [38]
 Indiana 1969 Saint Mary's College
 Missouri 1969 Saint Louis University
 District of Columbia 1969 The Catholic University of America Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [39]
 Illinois 1970 Loyola University
 Indiana 1970 Anderson College Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [40]
 New York 1970 State University of New York
 Utah 1970 Utah State University Doctor of Arts (HD) [41]
 Pennsylvania 1971 Lehigh University
 Connecticut 1971 Yale University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [42]
 Pennsylvania 1972 King's College
 Massachusetts 1972 Stonehill College
 Michigan 1972 Alma College
 New York 1973 Syracuse University Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [43]
 New York 1973 Marymount College
 New York 1973 Hobart and William Smith Colleges [44]
 Ohio 1973 Hebrew Union College
 Massachusetts 1973 Harvard University
 Colorado 1974 Regis College [45]
 Pennsylvania 1974 Lincoln University
 Massachusetts 1974 Tufts University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [46]
 Tennessee 1974 The University of the South
 Oregon 1975 University of Portland Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [47]
 Connecticut 1975 Fairfield University Doctor of Public Service [48]
 North Carolina 1976 Davidson College
 New York 1976 College of New Rochelle [49]
 Colorado 1976 University of Denver
 Wisconsin 1976 Beloit College Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [50]
 Pennsylvania 1977 Dickinson College Doctor of Sacred Theology (STD) [51]
 District of Columbia 1977 Georgetown University
 New York 1977 Queens College
 Quebec 1977 Laval University
 Belgium 1978 Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
 South Carolina 1978 University of South Carolina
 Pennsylvania 1978 University of Pennsylvania Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [52]
 Belgium 1978 Université catholique de Louvain
 Pennsylvania 1978 Duquesne University
 Nova Scotia 1978 St. Francis Xavier University
 Indiana 1979 University of Evansville
 Michigan 1979 Albion College
 Utah 1979 University of Utah Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [53]
 Massachusetts 1979 Assumption College
 Virginia 1980 College of William and Mary Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL)
 Maryland 1980 Johns Hopkins University Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [54]
 New Jersey 1980 Seton Hall University
 Alabama 1980 Tuskegee Institute
 New York 1980 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
 California 1980 University of San Diego
 Texas 1980 University of the Incarnate Word Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [55]
 New York 1981 St. John Fisher College
 Washington 1981 Seattle University
 Ohio 9 May 1981 University of Toledo Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [56][57]
 Iowa 1981 St. Ambrose University
 Pennsylvania 1981 University of Scranton [58][59]
 Ohio 1981 University of Cincinnati Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) [60]
 Michigan 1981 University of Michigan Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [61]
 Michigan 1981 Hope College Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [62]
 Brazil 1981 University of Brasília
 New York 1982 New York University
 Indiana 1982 Indiana State University
 Michigan 1982 Madonna College
 California 1982 Loyola Marymount University
 Pennsylvania 1982 Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital
 Michigan 1982 Kalamazoo College Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL)[63]
 Colorado 1982 Loretto Heights College
 Dominican Republic 1982 Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra
 Thailand 1983 Ramkhamhaeng University
 Indiana 1983 Saint Joseph's College
 New Jersey 1983 Rider College [64]
 New York 1983 Colgate University
 New Jersey 1983 Immaculate Conception Seminary
 Florida 1984 St. Leo College
 West Virginia 1984 West Virginia Wesleyan College
 Indiana 1984 University of Notre Dame
 Montana 1985 Carroll College
 Ohio 1985 College of Mount St. Joseph
 Pennsylvania 1985 Holy Family College
 North Carolina 1985 Duke University Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [65]
 Tennessee 1985 Christian Brothers College
 New Brunswick 1985 St. Thomas University
 Ohio 1985 Walsh College
 Iowa 1986 Briar Cliff College
 Michigan 1986 Aquinas College Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [66]
 Nebraska 1986 University of Nebraska Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [67]
 Pennsylvania 1987 University of Pittsburgh
 Guatemala 1987 Universidad Francisco Marroquín
 Malta 1988 University of Malta
 Missouri 1988 Rockhurst College
 West Virginia 1989 Wheeling Jesuit College
 Louisiana 1989 Loyola University [68]
 Maryland 1989 Mount Saint Mary’s College
 Rhode Island 1989 Brown University
 Iowa 1990 Loras College
 Ohio 1990 Defiance College
 Minnesota 1990 St. Olaf College
 District of Columbia 1991 Defiance College Doctor of Public Service [69]
 Louisiana 1991 Our Lady of Holy Cross College [70]
 Pennsylvania 1992 Gannon University
 Iowa 1993 Mount Mercy College
 New Hampshire 1993 Notre Dame College
 North Carolina 1993 Wake Forest University Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [71]
 Indiana 1994 Marian College
 Missouri 1994 Avila College
 Illinois 1995 North Park College
 Pennsylvania 1996 Saint Vincent College
 Illinois 1996 University of St. Francis Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [72]
 Connecticut 1996 Albertus Magnus College Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [73]
 Australia 1997 University of Notre Dame Australia
 New York 1997 The College of Saint Rose
 Kentucky 1998 University of Kentucky Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) [74]
 New York 1998 Touro College Law Center
 Florida 1998 Barry University
 New York 1999 State University of New York Polytechnic Institute
 Connecticut 1999 Connecticut College [75]
 Indiana 2000 University of Saint Francis
 Indiana 2000 Holy Cross College
 New Jersey 2000 Saint Peter's College [76]
 North Carolina 2000 North Carolina State University Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [77]
 Texas 2001 St. Edward's University
 New Jersey 2001 Georgian Court College
 Ohio 2002 Ohio State University Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [78]
 Indiana 2002 Ivy Tech State College
 California 2002 University of San Diego


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Further reading

External links

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Theodore Hesburgh
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Krishna Menon
Cover of Time magazine
February 9, 1962
Succeeded by
Robert Kennedy
Preceded by
Mina Rees
Public Welfare Medal
Succeeded by
Isidor Isaac Rabi
Political offices
Preceded by
John A. Hannah
Chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights

Theodore Hesburgh

Succeeded by
J. Stephen Horn (Acting)
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