Transformative figure in Catholic higher education

Man of influence

Fr Theodore Hesburgh, a transformative figure in Catholic higher education who led the University of Notre Dame in the US for 35 years, died on the university campus, aged 97.

- The Washington Post

Fr Ted Hesburgh 1917-2015

Fr Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame from 1952 to 1987, was considered one of the most important university leaders of the century. On his watch, the Midwestern school once known mainly for Fighting Irish football became an academic powerhouse that was the pride of Catholic America.

He also wielded influence with American presidents on civil rights and other charged issues of his era.

Notre Dame went on a building spree in that time, including adding a 14-storey library now named for Fr Hesburgh. The university’s enrolment doubled, and its endowment soared. Top scholars joined the faculty, lured by his vision of creating “a Catholic Princeton” in northern Indiana.

Beyond the South Bend campus, Father Hesburgh spearheaded a movement among Catholic universities in the 1960s to assert autonomy from the church hierarchy and put governing power in the hands of the laity. Some clerics thought it was folly to cede control. But Fr Hesburgh called it a practical reform that brought more expertise into the leadership of increasingly complex institutions.

And in 1972, Notre Dame admitted female students for the first time. “Our women students brought a good measure of gentility” to what had been “a kind of rough, raunchy, macho place,” ­Fr Hesburgh later wrote.

Fr Hesburgh, who made Time magazine’s cover in 1962, became a moral leader with clout in the White House and the Vatican on matters from human rights to nuclear proliferation.

Derek Bok, then president of Harvard University, said in 1987 that Fr Hesburgh “succeeded not only in strengthening Notre Dame academically but in teaching audiences everywhere about the values that matter in our society.”

He travelled so often on presidential and papal business that a joke circulated on campus: “What’s the difference between God and Fr Hesburgh? God is everywhere. Fr Hesburgh is everywhere but Notre Dame.”

The Rev Theodore Hesburgh, ex-Notre Dame president, dies at 97 (The Washington Post)

 Father Ted recalled as bold leader (NCR)

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