Notre Dame family pays respects after passing of former university president Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC


Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, president emeritus of Notre Dame, died on February 26.  The week of March 2, events on campus honored his life and legacy.

Students, faculty, staff, friends, and family honored Fr. Hesburgh with a 24-hour wake, funeral, procession, and memorial service.  On March 3, more than 12,000 people filed into the Basilica to visit Fr. Hesburgh’s casket throughout the day and long into the night.  Following the funeral and procession the next day, nearly 10,000 people gathered in the Joyce Center for a memorial service that began with music from numerous choirs and bands, included 12 speakers, and culminated with the singing of the alma mater.

Tickets were available the Sunday before the memorial service, and students lined up hours in advance to obtain floor seats.  Sophomore Madeleine Paulsen was one of the first in line.  She read to Fr. Hesburgh each Wednesday and shared her impressions with the Rover.

“Father Ted was a man who gave everything for students.  When I would read to him, he always ended by thanking me and telling me, ‘If there is anything I can do for you, just ask.’  When I told him I was just happy to help, he would say, ‘Still, thank you for doing this for me.’  It will not be the last thing I do in his memory, but for the man who gave me so much, I can honor him by attending his memorial.  I can say his favorite prayer—‘Come Holy Spirit’—and remember him,” Paulsen stated.

University President Father John Jenkins, CSC, welcomed all of the memorial’s speakers, especially former President Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalynn, and Theodore Cardinal McCarrick.  Anne Thompson, Notre Dame alumna and NBC News correspondent, emceed the service and expressed her gratitude for Fr. Hesburgh’s decision to open Notre Dame to women in 1972.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence, President Emeritus of Princeton University Dr. William Bowen, and United States Senator of Indiana Joe Donnelly all praised Fr. Hesburgh’s work as a political advisor.  Donnelly, a double Domer, stated that “Fr. Hesburgh never gave a second thought about preaching truth to power.  He never accepted second best and lived by the saying that we should do what is right, not what is easy.”

Father Paul Doyle, CSC, spoke of Fr. Hesburgh’s primary dedication to the priesthood, mentioning that the Mass was at the center of Fr. Ted’s life.  Father Hesburgh said Mass every day—even on the day that he died—regardless of circumstance.  Father Doyle commented that “though his sight was failing, Fr. Hesburgh never lost his vision.”  A hard worker until the end of his days, Fr. Hesburgh wished to go into his office the week before his passing, and Fr. Doyle noted that he “felt better there, and could talk to Mary on the Dome directly and entrust us to her care.”

Lou Holtz praised Fr. Hesburgh as a man who had “a vision of where he wanted to go and knowledge of how to get there.”  Additionally, Holtz said that Fr. Hesburgh is emblematic of Notre Dame, as “both he and this institution teach its students not only how to make a living but also how to make a life.”

Trustee Martin Rodgers offered an anecdote about his undergraduate experience.  Rodgers’ editorial in the Observer about Notre Dame’s lack of diversity caught Fr. Hesburgh’s eye, and he summoned Rodgers to his office.  Fearing chastisement or even expulsion, Rodgers entered Fr. Hesburgh’s office with great trepidation.  Rather than reproaching the freshman, however, Fr. Hesburgh simply stated, “If you think you can do better, there is a job in admissions for you.”  After their meeting, Rodgers began a student advisory committee on race within the admissions office.

President Barack Obama made a virtual video appearance during the memorial, saying “[Fr. Hesburgh] took the helm of Notre Dame, guided it by his fundamental reason, and helped make the university a place where faith and reason work together.”

Former United States Senator of Wyoming Alan Simpson and former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also spoke to Fr. Hesburgh’s commitment to peace, both abroad and at home.  Simpson said “we are all children of God, but few are men with God.  Father Hesburgh was a man with God.”  Rice spoke of her memories of a segregated Birmingham, Alabama, and praised Fr. Hesburgh’s belief “that America has to be what it said it was: a nation of justice, equality, and rights.”

President Carter was the memorial’s final speaker, and he told touching stories of his interaction with Fr. Hesburgh.  He asked Fr. Hesburgh for advice during his candidacy, to which the priest quickly replied that he did not help presidential candidates.  Father Hesburgh did, however, give Carter guidance after he was elected.  When asked how one should go about being the leader of such a great nation, Fr. Hesburgh told Carter to “be human.”

His legacy, as the various speakers emphasized, reminds us that a fulfilled life is one lived in service to others and to God and that our studies, day-to-day interactions, goals, and friendships must always be directed toward this end.

Kate Hardiman is a sophomore PLS major and PPE minor living in Breen-Phillips Hall.  She highly recommends Fr. Hesburgh’s autobiography God, Country, Notre Dame as a fascinating insight into his life of service.  Contact her at