Father Ted Hesburgh’s room at Holy Cross House was just across the hall from mine. I would read to him regularly from the New York Times, but also from his autobiography God, Country, Notre Dame. We focused mainly on his task as the Vatican representative at the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission in the midst of the thermonuclear stalemate, his work on the Civil Rights Commission, and his work with my father Moose, Athletic Director at the university for 43 years, on the topic of athletes getting a serious college education.
Among his major concerns in the later stages of his life was the culture of death versus the culture of life that was so clearly defined by Pope Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis I. He was especially concerned with serious and tragic assaults on the family—the basic social unit, the ordinary place for true love to flourish.
Father Ted was concerned with Notre Dame’s Catholic mission in the midst of secularization and an increasing focus on prestige and money, the core curriculum and the distinction between college education and job training, and the high financial and spiritual challenges faced by present and future generations of college students. He was also concerned with the future of the Holy Cross order, its missionary task, its schools, and the paucity of vocations.
In God, Country, Notre Dame, Fr. Ted wrote of the challenges facing the university that, “We are presently beset by enormous external problems, mainly financial, which we must solve ourselves. We must also cope with an all-pervading secularism which has little regard for our serious Catholic commitment.”
The Mass and the Rosary were at the center of Fr. Ted’s life. God is a mystery of love, a Trinity, and we are called to share life and love with God our Father, and Mary our mother. Love is the substance of Biblical salvation, and the ordinary place for true love to flourish is at the interior of stable family life, uniquely sacred and sacramental like nothing else we do, essentially interrelated with the Eucharist, God’s infinite love for each one of us, and the extension of the mystery of the Incarnation in history. As Jesus put it: “I will live in you and you will live in me, and I will raise you up on the last day.”
These were the basics of Fr. Ted’s life: the Mass and the Rosary. The Eucharist, God’s radical, infinite love for each one of us, should be at the center of our life, and Mary and the Eucharist go together. Mary bore in her womb the Word made flesh, became the first tabernacle, and insisted that we “do whatever he tells you,” as at the Last Supper—the first Mass. As Fr. Ted put it, “The Mass … is a recapitulation of the Last Supper and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, redeeming the sins of all those who believe in Him. It is the central part of salvation, and of all the services performed by a priest, to my mind there is nothing more important than offering Mass.”
Another of Fr. Ted’s major concerns was for the nature of a college education. Notre Dame seeks the education of mind, heart, and spirit, along with the infusion of the cardinal virtues—prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude—and the theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity. Father Ted was especially interested in the education of Notre Dame’s student athletes—an endeavor he supported along with my father. In his autobiography, Fr. Ted wrote that, “Sports are an important microcosm of life, for on the playing field all of the important values of life come into play … It is a fine training ground for developing character and responsibility.” Father Ted was particularly grateful that under my father’s jurisdiction, “99 percent of our scholarship football student-athletes were graduated … a better record than the 90.94 percent graduation rate for the entire student body.”
With respect to Fr. Ted’s age related suffering at the end of his life, he referred more than once to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on suffering, Salvifici Doloris. God tolerates or permits suffering for the sake of a greater good: to wake us up to the should-be self-evident fact that we are indeed creatures radically dependent on God, the Creative Power, for every moment of our life. Prayer will nurture hope, compassion, and a deeper faith relationship with Almighty God as we receive the love and care of others. As the apostle John put it: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more.” St. Paul put it this way: “Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, nor has it entered the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love.”
Father Ted knew that he wanted to be a priest when he was in the sixth grade, and his priestly pastoral focus was central to his life and especially evident in the later stages of his life—though this will not get much media attention. His faith, rooted in the daily Mass, the Eucharist, and the daily prayer of the Rosary to Mary, God’s mother and our mother too, on the Dome, was the source of his faith and hope for a better future for the Lord’s Church, Notre Dame, and the Holy Cross order.
The conclusion to his autobiography was: “I guess that I would like my life to say, to the young people especially: He believed, he hoped, he tried, he failed often enough, but with God’s grace, he often accomplished more than he rationally could have dreamed. Remember for me those wonderful words of Scripture: ‘God has chosen the weak of this world to confound the strong.’”
Father Ed Krause, CSC, PhD, taught Moral Theology and Social Science for 33 years at Gannon University, at Saint Mary’s College for five years, and at Stonehill College for two years. His father was the Athletic Director at Notre Dame for 43 years.