Theodore Hesburgh

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Theodore Hesburgh
Hesburgh in 2008
15th President of the University of Notre Dame
In office
Preceded byJohn J Cavanaugh
Succeeded byEdward Malloy
Chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights
In office
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byJohn A. Hannah
Succeeded byArthur S. Flemming
Personal details
Theodore Martin Hesburgh

(1917-05-25)May 25, 1917
Syracuse, New York, U.S.
DiedFebruary 26, 2015(2015-02-26) (aged 97)
Notre Dame, Indiana, U.S.
Resting placeHoly Cross Cemetery
EducationPontifical Gregorian University (BA)
College of the Holy Cross
Catholic University (MA, PhD)

Theodore Hesburgh

Ordination24 June 1943
by John F. Noll
Personal details
DenominationCatholic Church

Rev. Theodore Martin Hesburgh, CSC (May 25, 1917 – February 26, 2015) was an American Catholic priest and academic who was a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross. He is best known for his service as the president of the University of Notre Dame for thirty-five years (1952–1987). In addition to his career as an educator and author, Hesburgh was a public servant and social activist involved in numerous American civic and governmental initiatives, commissions, international humanitarian projects, and papal assignments. Hesburgh received numerous honors and awards for his service, most notably the United States's Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964) and Congressional Gold Medal (2000). As of 2013, he also held the world's record for the individual with most honorary degrees with more than 150.

Hesburgh is credited with bringing Notre Dame, long known for its football program, to the forefront of American Catholic universities and its transition to a nationally respected institution of higher education. He supervised the university's dramatic growth, as well as the successful transfer of its ownership from Holy Cross priests to the Notre Dame board of trustees in 1967. During his tenure as president, the university also became a coeducational institution. In addition to his service to Notre Dame, Hesburgh held leadership positions in numerous groups involved in civil rights, peaceful uses of atomic energy, immigration reform, and Third World development. Hesburgh was also active on the boards of numerous businesses, nonprofits, civic organizations, and Vatican missions.

Early life and education[edit]

Theodore Martin Hesburgh was born on May 25, 1917, in Syracuse, New York, to Theodore Bernard Hesburgh, a Pittsburgh Plate Glass warehouse manager, and Anne Murphy Hesburgh.[1][2] His father was of Luxembourgish ancestry; his mother's family was of Irish descent.[3] Young Theodore was the second child and oldest son in a family of five children that included two boys and three girls. He attended Most Holy Rosary, a parochial school in Syracuse, and also served as an altar boy. Hesburgh claimed that he had wished to become a priest since the age of six.[4][5][6] Thomas Duffy, a missionary priest from the Congregation of Holy Cross, which owned the University of Notre Dame, encouraged Hesburgh's interest in joining the priesthood.[2][7]

Hesburgh graduated from Most Holy Rosary High School in Syracuse in 1934 and enrolled in the Holy Cross Seminary at Notre Dame in the fall. In 1937, his teachers decided to send the promising young seminarian to study in Rome, Italy, where he graduated from the Pontifical Gregorian University with a bachelor of philosophy degree in 1940.[8][5][9] When the American consul in Rome ordered all U.S. citizens to leave Italy in 1940, due to the outbreak of World War II, Hesburgh returned to the United States to continue his studies.[10] He spent three years (1940–43) studying theology at Holy Cross College and two years (1943–45) at The Catholic University of America, where he earned a doctorate in sacred theology in 1945.[2][11]

On June 24, 1943, Hesburgh was ordained a priest for the Congregation of Holy Cross at Notre Dame's Sacred Heart Church (later renamed the Basilica of the Sacred Heart). Inspired by an inscription carved in stone above the church's door, Hesburgh dedicated his life to "God, Country, and Notre Dame." Afterwards, Father Ted, as he preferred to be called, returned to Washington, D.C., to complete his studies and assist at area parishes. In addition, Hesburgh served as a chaplain at the National Training School for Boys (a juvenile detention facility) and at a military installation. He also ran a large United Service Organization (USO) club in a Knights of Columbus hall in Washington, D.C.[2][12] Although Hesburgh expressed an interest in serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he returned to Notre Dame, Indiana, in 1945, after completion of his studies in Washington, D.C., to begin a teaching career at the university.[13][14]


Early years[edit]

Hesburgh joined the Notre Dame faculty as an instructor in the university's Department of Religion in 1945.[14] In 1948 Hesburgh was named head of the Department of Theology, and in 1949 Notre Dame's president, John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C., appointed Hesburgh executive vice president. Three years later, at the age of thirty-five, Hesburgh succeeded Cavanaugh as president.[2][15]

President of Notre Dame[edit]

Hesburgh presents the Laetare Medal to John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1961[16]

Hesburgh served as Notre Dame's president for thirty-five years, from 1952 until his retirement in 1987. At that time his was "the longest presidency in American higher education."[2] Hesburgh immediately began efforts to transform the school, primarily known for its football program, "into a nationally respected institution of higher learning."[17] In 1953 the university created the Distinguished Professors Program to attract top scholars to Notre Dame. By the time of Hesburgh's retirement in 1987, the school had established more than a hundred distinguished professorships.[18]

Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame

Hesburgh supervised dramatic growth at the university and expansion of its endowment, as well as its transition to a coeducational institution which occurred in 1972. During his presidency (1952–87), the annual operating budget increased from $9.7 million to $176.6 million and the university's endowment increased from $9 million to $350 million. Research funding increased from $735,000 to $15 million. Student enrollment nearly doubled from 4,979 to 9,676, and its faculty more than doubled from 389 to 951. The average faculty salary rose from $5,400 to $50,800. The number of degrees conferred annually doubled from 1,212 to 2,663.[19][20] While Hesburgh was president, the university also initiated forty new building projects, including the $8 million library with the famous "Word of Life" mural, better known as "Touchdown Jesus," on its façade.[21][22]

Hesburgh played a key role in developing the Land O'Lakes Statement that North American representatives of the International Federation of Catholic Universities issued in 1967. The document outlined a commitment to academic freedom with independent governance and insisted that "a Catholic university properly developed can even more fully achieve the ideal of a true university."[2][23] The statement created some controversy because it declared that Catholic universities should be autonomous, free from all authority, including the Catholic Church. Despite the conflicts that the statement initiated, Hesburg's commitment to excellence "transformed Notre Dame into one of the most recognizable and prestigious Catholic universities in the United States".[2] In 1967, Hesburgh ended the university's exclusive, century-long leadership by the Congregation of Holy Cross clergy. Hesburgh and Howard Kenna worked together to establish a plan for transferring ownership of the university from the Congregation of Holy Cross priests to the University of Notre Dame Board of Trustees. The new governing board included laypersons and Holy Cross priests as trustees and fellows.[21][24][25]

During the 1960s, when student demonstrations were held at colleges and universities across the United States, Hesburgh and many other collegiate presidents came under attack. For Notre Dame the climax of student unrest occurred in 1968–69.[26] On February 17, 1969, Hesburgh took a controversial position in dealing with anti-Vietnam War student activism on campus when he issued an eight-page letter to the student body outlining the university's stance on protests. Hesburgh's letter stated that student protesters who violated the rights of others or disrupted the school's operations would be given fifteen minutes to cease and desist before facing suspension, or expulsion if they refused to disperse.[27] Hesburgh's action provoked controversy and made national headlines.[28] The letter was reprinted in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.[29][30] Although Hesburgh received harsh criticism from Notre Dame's students, including requests for his resignation, responses to editorials in 250 newspapers about his "fifteen-minute rule" were nearly all favorable.[21][27] In addition, President Richard Nixon sent Hesburgh a telegram praising his "tough stance" on the campus's student protests.[31]

At President Nixon's request, Hesburgh offered advice to Vice President Spiro Agnew in a letter written on February 27, 1969, that included suggestions for potential actions that could be taken to control the violence on college campuses. Hesburgh, who generally disagreed with the Nixon administration's policy in Vietnam and favored an accelerated withdrawal of the troops,[32] advised against repressive legislation to control campus protests. Hesburgh argued that university and college administrations should be allowed to continue to decide the appropriate action to take on their respective campuses. The National Governors Conference agreed with his view; the majority of state governors opposed the proposed legislation. In October 1969, Hesburgh publicly expressed his opposition to the war by signing a letter with other college presidents calling for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam and was present at an on-campus peace Mass with 2,500 Notre Dame students the following day.[33]

Hesburgh, a member and later chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, was publicly vocal in his support for equal rights, but he did not immediately recognize or take significant action to eliminate institutional racism at Notre Dame, where the number of black students and employees "remained at token levels until the late 1960s."[34] In 1969, after some of Notre Dame's African American student activists criticized the low level of blacks enrolled at the university, Hesburgh appointed a student-faculty committee to assess the issue. The committee's findings caused him to take immediate measures to increase minority employment and aggressively recruit minority students. Hesburgh also persuaded the university's trustees to lift their forty-year ban on participation in postseason football games and used revenue generated from Notre Dame's bowl game appearances to fund minority scholarships. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish's win over the University of Texas Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl Classic in 1970 raised $300,000 for Notre Dame's scholarship fund.[35]

Notre Dame, as with other colleges and universities around the country, continued to experience antiwar protests as the Vietnam War proceeded to escalate. In early May 1970, after learning of rumors that a group of students and antiwar activists planned to firebomb the Notre Dame campus's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) building, Hesburgh responded with a public statement on May 4. In an address to a crowd of approximately 2,000 students, Hesburgh spoke against the war and objected to Nixon's decision to send troops into Cambodia. During his conciliatory remarks, Hesburgh also outlined steps that he thought the government could take to address student concerns. On May 18, Hesburgh sent a letter to President Nixon and a copy of his address, which became known as the Hesburgh Declaration. Although campus unrest caused classes to be canceled on May 6, Notre Dame's seven days of protest ended without damage, violence, or National Guard presence as it did on other college campuses, such as Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, and elsewhere.[36]

By the early 1970s, Hesburgh had become the most well-known American Catholic in the United States. He continued to respond to student concerns during the 1970s and 1980s. To increase student involvement in the administration's decision-making process, Hesburgh added student representatives to university committees.[37]

Civic and U.S. government activist[edit]

Hesburgh chairs the Civil Rights Committee

Hesburgh's career included many civic activities, as well as American and international initiatives beyond his work at Notre Dame. Hesburgh estimated he spent about 40 percent of his time off-campus and believed that his civic involvement "enriched" his priesthood.[38]

Beginning in 1955, Hesburgh served in a number of posts on government commissions that included National Science Board and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and also served on the boards of non-profit organizations, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, and Vatican missions. His career included at least sixteen presidential appointments involving some of the major social issues of his era: civil rights, campus unrest, Third World development, peaceful uses of atomic energy, and immigration reform, "including the American policy of amnesty for immigrants in the mid-1980s."[39]

Hesburgh's first presidential appointment occurred in 1954, when President Dwight Eisenhower appointed him to the National Science Board.[40] Although Hesburgh had no previous experience as an activist supporting civil rights issues, President Eisenhower made him a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 1957, beginning fifteen years of service on the commission. Hesburgh emerged as a civil rights advocate and spokesperson for the commission.[34] In an appendix to the commission's annual report in 1959, Hesburgh outlined his position on civil rights and equality:

I believe that civil rights were not created, but only recognized and formulated, by our Federal and State constitutions and charters. Civil rights are important corollaries of the great proposition … that every human person is a res sacra, a sacred reality, and as such is entitled to the opportunity of fulfilling those great human potentials with which God has endowed every man.[41]

In 1961 Hesburgh persuaded the Indiana Conference of Higher Education to support a Notre Dame-based pilot project for President John F. Kennedy's new Peace Corps initiative that trained new volunteers for service in Chile,[2][42] but he felt that the Kennedy administration had a poor record on civil rights issues.[41] In contrast to his assessment of the Kennedy administration's civil rights efforts, Hesburgh praised Lyndon B. Johnson's work to secure passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the U.S. Congress and his courage for supporting the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Hesburgh also made public appearances to show his support for the civil rights movement. On July 21, 1964, Hesburgh delivered an impromptu speech during Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights rally in Chicago, Illinois. At the conclusion of the event, he joined hands with King and other civil rights supporters as the group sang "We Shall Overcome."[43]

Hesburgh served as chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission from 1969, when President Nixon appointed him to the leadership position, until 1972, when White House aides asked for Hesburgh's resignation. His dismissal from the commission in 1972 followed a series of disagreements between Hesburgh, the commission, and the Nixon administration about civil rights policies. Hesburgh objected to the president's slowdown policy on school desegregation, opposed Nixon's anti-busing policy, and advocated for the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, which the Nixon administration wanted to amend. Hesburgh publicly explained that he believed the primary reason for his dismissal was due to the commission's report on minority employment in government.[40][44]

According to Rick Perlstein in Nixonland (2008), when Thomas Eagleton dropped out of the race as George McGovern's vice presidential running mate in the 1972 presidential election, Hesburgh was among many people considered as a replacement candidate for Eagleton, but he declined the offer.[45][46] In the 1970s, Hesburgh made public his approval for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.[47] During that decade, the organization Catholics Act for ERA sent out marketing materials on behalf of the amendment quoting support from Hesburgh.[47]

President Jimmy Carter appointed Hesburgh 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[48][49] was cited by various opponents of illegal immigration to the United States. His efforts on the commission led to the passing of the Refugee Act of 1980, and the creation of a professional Asylum Corps in the 1990s.[citation needed]

Papal appointments[edit]

Hesburgh served as a permanent Holy See representative from 1956 to 1970 to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria. Pope Paul VI appointed Hesburgh as head of the Vatican representatives attending the twentieth anniversary of the United Nations' human rights declaration in Tehran, Iran, and as a member of the Holy See's U.N. delegation in 1974.[50] Pope John Paul II appointed Hesburgh to the Pontifical Council for Culture in 1983.[51]

Business and nonprofit foundation leader[edit]

Throughout his career, Hesburgh was active on many advisory boards related to higher education, science, business, and civic affairs. He also traveled the world on behalf of the university and the organizations he served.

In the field of higher education, Hesburgh was a contributor to The Pursuit of Excellence (1958), an analysis of the U.S. education system that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund commissioned as part of its Special Studies Project.[52] Hesburgh also served as a member of the International Federation of Catholic Universities, and as its president from 1963 to 1970; a board member and eventual president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities; a board member of the American Council on Education; and a board member of the Institute of International Education, among other education-related groups.[53][54]

In 1990, during his retirement years, Hesburgh became the first priest to be elected to the Harvard Board of Overseers (board of directors), and served from 1994 to 1996 as the board's president.[55] Hesburgh also served as co-chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics that made significant revisions to the regulation of American collegiate sports.[56]

Hesburgh was involved with several science-related projects and organizations. From 1956 until 1970, he served as the permanent Vatican representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria.[57][58] In addition to serving on the U.S. National Science Board, Hesburgh was appointed U.S. ambassador to the 1979 United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development.[39] He also served with the Midwestern Universities Research Association and the Nutrition Foundation Board. While serving on the board of the United States Institute of Peace, Hesburgh "helped organize a meeting of scientists and representative leaders of six faith traditions who called for the elimination of nuclear weapons."[39][53]

Hesburgh was a board member of numerous business and civic organizations. From 1961 to 1982 he served on the board of the Rockefeller Foundation, and from 1977 to 1982 as board chairman.[39][59][60] Hesburgh also served as a director for the Chase Manhattan Bank[39] and a member of the advisory board of People for the American Way, among many other organizations.[61] Hesburgh's interest in international affairs also led to his service on numerous international commissions and humanitarian projects.

Later years[edit]

Hesburgh greets President Barack Obama at Notre Dame in 2009
External video
video icon Booknotes interview with Hesburgh on God, Country, Notre Dame, February 10, 1991, C-SPAN

After his retirement as president of the University of Notre Dame in 1987, Hesburgh took a year off for travel and vacation.[62] Upon his return, he came to campus to work each day at his new office on the thirteenth floor of the library that eventually bore his name, and wrote his autobiography, God, Country, Notre Dame: The Autobiography of Theodore M. Hesburgh (1990) with Jerry Reedy. The book spent six weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.[63][64] At the conclusion of the book, Hesburgh remarked:

I believe that with faith in God and in our fellow humans, we can aim for the heights of human endeavor, and that we can teach them, too.[65]

Hesburgh kept busy in his retirement years, which also included time to relax at the Holy Cross property at Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin.[66] He wrote regularly, including a second book, Travels with Ted and Ned (1992), which received mixed reviews, and edited The Challenge and Promise of a Catholic University (1994), a collection of essays on Catholic higher education.[63] Hesburgh continued to deliver speeches and lectures, as well as serving on numerous boards and committees, including his controversial decision in 1994 to co-chair the legal defense fund for President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton with former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.[67]

Hesburgh was especially active in the development of five institutions he organized: the Ecumenical Institute for Theology Studies at Tantur, Jerusalem;[68] Notre Dame's Center for Civil and Human Rights;[69] the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies;[70] the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies;[71] and the Hank Family Environmental Research Center.[72][50] Other retirement activities included co-chairing the Knight Commission with William C. "Bill" Friday, former president of the University of North Carolina, and joining the Harvard Board of Overseers in 1990.[73] In 2009, he supported the invitation to Barack Obama to speak at Notre Dame, which was controversial because of Obama's strong endorsement of pro-choice legislation.[74]

Death and legacy[edit]

Hesburgh died on February 26, 2015, at the age of 97.[75][76] His death, funeral, and memorial service gained widespread media attention.[77][78][79][80] Attendees and speakers at the memorial service included former President Jimmy Carter, Condoleezza Rice, Lou Holtz, then cardinal Theodore McCarrick and cardinal Roger Mahony, former U.S. senator Harris L. Wofford, Indiana governor Mike Pence, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, former U.S. senator Alan K. Simpson, U.S. senator Joe Donnelly, William G. Bowen, and a video message from President Barack Obama.[81][82]

Father Hesburgh was the president of the University of Notre Dame from 1952 to 1987. He was an American Roman Catholic priest and educator who achieved national prominence through his public service work. He increased the stature and size of the university, liberalized the rules regulating student life, promoted academic freedom, and worked toward making Notre Dame one of the top universities in the country, doubling its enrollment and greatly increasing its endowment. He transferred its governance from the Congregation of the Holy Cross to a mixed lay and religious board and oversaw the admittance of women students in 1972. He was also the chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights and of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy. He received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964) and a Congressional Gold Medal (1999), and more than 150 honorary degrees. He was a steadfast champion for human rights, the cause of peace, and care for the poor.[83]

Hesburgh's leadership as president of the University of Notre Dame brought it to the forefront of American Catholic universities.[84] A Time magazine cover story from February 9, 1962, named him as "the most influential figure in the reshaping of Catholic higher education in the U.S."[85] Long known for its football program, Notre Dame also became known for its academics.[86] While Hesburgh was slow to recognize that Notre Dame's "policies and practices unintentionally produced unequal outcomes," he took decisive action after its minority students challenged him to do so. By the 1970s Notre Dame was a "much more diverse university than it had been ten years earlier."[43]

The university has named several buildings, scholarships, and academic programs in his honor, including the Hesburgh Library, the Hesburgh Institute for International Studies, which Hesburgh founded in 1985,[87] the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholarship,[88] and the Hesburgh International Scholar Experience.[89] Hesburgh's papers are housed in the Archives of the University of Notre Dame.[90] Notre Dame's Hesburgh Library initially opened as the Memorial Library on September 18, 1963, and was renamed in his honor in 1987. In his retirement, Hesburgh maintained a private office on the library's thirteenth floor.[64]

Hesburgh, one of the country's "most respected clergyman,"[91] was a strong supporter of interfaith dialogue. He also brought a Catholic perspective to the numerous government commissions, civic initiatives, and other projects in which he was involved.[84] From his position within the American political establishment and as a major figure in the Catholic Church from the 1950s to the 1990s, he used his influence to urge support of political policies and legislation to help solve national problems.[91]

Hesburgh remained an activist for most of his adult life, especially in the area of civil rights and equality. He played a significant role in national affairs, beginning in the mid-twentieth century, and became well known for his liberal point of view, which was based on concepts of freedom and autonomy.[92] Hesburgh supported the peaceful use of atomic energy, aid to developing Third World countries (especially Africa and Latin America), and civil rights and equality. Although his remarks and actions were controversial at times, "he nearly always came through unscathed."[3]

As a fifteen-year member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Hesburgh took a public stand against racism and prejudice. He used his skills as a leader to forge strong alliances, even with those who held different political philosophies. For Hesburgh, civil rights were a moral issue, as he once declared:

Our moral blindness has given us a divided America and ugly America complete with black ghettos. …We allow children to grow up in city jungles, to attend disgraceful schools, to be surrounded with every kind of physical and moral ugliness, and then we are surprised if they are low in aspiration and accomplishment.[44]

While Hesburgh was criticized by some for his social and political ideas, many praised his "contributions to ecumenism, civil rights, and world peace"[21]

In 2018, Hesburgh, a documentary film directed by Patrick Creadon, was released. It covers Hesburgh's life, particularly his presidency at Notre Dame and his work in civil rights.[93]

Presidential appointments[edit]

  • National Science Board (1954–56),[51] Committee on International Science[94]
  • National War College, Board of Consultants[95]
  • Overseas Development Council (1971–82)[51]
  • President's Commission on All-Volunteer Armed Forces[94]
  • President's Committee on the Holocaust[96]
  • President's General Advisory Committee on Foreign Assistance Programs[94]
  • Presidential Clemency Board (1974–75)[97]
  • U.S. Advisory Committee on International Educational and Cultural Affairs (1962–65)[94]
  • U.S. Ambassador and Chair, U.S. Delegation to the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development (1979)[98]
  • U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1957–72)[97]
  • U.S. Commission on United States-Latin American Relations[99]
  • U.S. Institute of Peace, Board of Directors[100]
  • U.S. Naval Academy, Board of Visitors[95]
  • U.S. Official Observer Team for El Salvador Elections (1982)[98]
  • U.S. Select Commission on Immigration and Relief Policy (1979–81)[98]
  • U.S. State Department, Policy Planning Council[95]

Selected published works[edit]


  • The Relation of the Sacramental Characters of Baptism and Confirmation to the Lay Apostle. 1946.
  • The Theology of Catholic Action. 1946.
  • God and the World of Man. 1950.
  • Pattern for Educational Growth: Six Discourses at the University of Notre Dame. 1958.
  • Thoughts for Our Times. 1961.
  • More Thoughts for Our Times. 1964.
  • Still More Thoughts for Our Times. 1966.
  • Thought IV: Five Addresses. 1967.
  • Thoughts for Our Times V. 1969.
  • With Paul A. Miller and Clifton R. Wharton Jr., Pattern for Lifelong Learning. 1973.
  • The Human Imperative: A Challenge for the Year. 1974.
  • The Hesburgh Papers: High Values in Higher Education. 1979.
  • With Jerry Reedy, God, Country, Notre Dame: The Autobiography of Theodore M. Hesburgh. New York: Doubleday. 1990.
  • Travels with Ted and Ned. 1992.
  • Editor, The Challenge and Promise of a Catholic University. 1994.

Honors and awards[edit]

External video
video icon Presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to Father Hesburgh by President Bill Clinton, July 13, 2000, C-SPAN
Hesburgh's Presidential Medal of Freedom

Hesburgh received numerous honors and awards for his public service. In 1964, President Johnson awarded Hesburgh the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.[21][51] In 2000, Hesburgh was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the first person from higher education to receive the honor.[39][101]

Hesburgh's Congressional Gold Medal

On September 1, 2017, the United States Postal Service (USPS) released a First Class postage stamp honoring Hesburgh in the year of the 100th anniversary of his birthday. The release ceremony was held at the Joyce Center at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana.

Hesburgh's awards include, among many others:

World records[edit]

In a flight that took place on February 28, 1979, Hesburgh, one of a very few number of civilians to ride in a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, flew at Mach 3.35 (about 2,200 miles per hour) as a favor owed to him by President Jimmy Carter.[115][116]

In 1982, after receiving his ninetieth honorary degree, Hesburgh's name was added to the Guinness Book of World Records as the individual with the "Most Honorary Degrees." As of 2013, he had received more than 150 honorary degrees.[117][50]

Honorary degrees[edit]

Hesburgh is the recipient of more than 150 honorary degrees.[39] These include:[118]

Location Date School Degree
 New York 1954 Le Moyne College [119]
 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 [120]
 New York 1961 Columbia University
 New Jersey 1961 Princeton University Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [121]
 Massachusetts 1962 Brandeis University Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [122]
 Indiana 1962 Indiana University Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [123]
 Illinois 1963 Northwestern University Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [124]
 Pennsylvania 1963 Lafayette College Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)
 Austria 1965 University of Vienna Honorary Citizen [125]
 California 1965 University of California Los Angeles
 Philippines 1965 Saint Louis University
 Washington 1965 Gonzaga University
 Pennsylvania 1965 Temple University Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [126]
 Quebec 1965 Université de Montréal
 Illinois 1966 University of Illinois Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [127]
 Georgia (U.S. state) 1966 Atlanta University
 Indiana 1966 Wabash College [128]
 New York 1967 Fordham University
 Indiana 1967 Manchester University [128]
 Indiana 1967 Valparaiso University [128]
 Rhode Island 1968 Providence College
 California 1968 University of Southern California
 Michigan 1968 Michigan State University Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [129]
 Indiana 1969 Saint Mary's College [128]
 Missouri 1969 Saint Louis University
 District of Columbia 1969 The Catholic University of America Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [130]
 Illinois 1970 Loyola University
 Indiana 1970 Anderson College Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [131]
 New York 1970 State University of New York
 Utah 1970 Utah State University Doctor of Arts (HD) [132]
 Pennsylvania 1971 Lehigh University
 Connecticut 1971 Yale University Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [133]
 Pennsylvania 1972 King's College
 Massachusetts 1972 Stonehill College
 Michigan 1972 Alma College
 New York 1973 Syracuse University Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [134]
 New York 1973 Marymount College
 New York 1973 Hobart and William Smith Colleges [135]
 Ohio 1973 Hebrew Union College
 Massachusetts 1973 Harvard University
 Colorado 1974 Regis College [136]
 Pennsylvania 1974 Lincoln University
 Massachusetts 1974 Tufts University Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [137]
 Tennessee 1974 The University of the South
 Oregon 1975 University of Portland Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [138]
 Connecticut 1975 Fairfield University Doctor of Public Service [139]
 North Carolina 1976 Davidson College
 New York 1976 College of New Rochelle [140]
 Colorado 1976 University of Denver
 Wisconsin 1976 Beloit College Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [141]
 Pennsylvania 1977 Dickinson College Doctor of Sacred Theology (STD) [142]
 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.) [143]
 Belgium 1978 Université catholique de Louvain
 Pennsylvania 1978 Duquesne University
 Nova Scotia 1978 St. Francis Xavier University
 Indiana 1979 University of Evansville [144]
 Michigan 1979 Albion College
 Utah 1979 University of Utah Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [145]
 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) [146]
 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) [147]
 New York 1981 St. John Fisher College
 Washington 1981 Seattle University
 Ohio 1981 University of Toledo Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [148][149]
 Iowa 1981 St. Ambrose University
 Pennsylvania 1981 University of Scranton [150][151]
 Ohio 1981 University of Cincinnati Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) [152]
 Michigan 1981 University of Michigan Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [153]
 Michigan 1981 Hope College Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [154]
 Brazil 1981 University of Brasília
 New York 1982 New York University
 Indiana 1982 Indiana State University [155]
 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)[156]
 Colorado 1982 Loretto Heights College
 Dominican Republic 1982 Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra
 Thailand 1983 Ramkhamhaeng University
 Indiana 1983 Saint Joseph's College [155]
 New Jersey 1983 Rider College [157]
 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 [155]
 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) [158]
 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.) [159]
 Nebraska 1986 University of Nebraska Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [160]
 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 [161]
 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 George Washington University Doctor of Public Service [162]
 Louisiana 1991 Our Lady of Holy Cross College [163]
 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) [164]
 Indiana 1994 Marian College [100]
 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.) [165]
 Connecticut 1996 Albertus Magnus College Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [166]
 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.) [167]
 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 [168]
 Indiana 2000 University of Saint Francis
 Indiana 2000 Holy Cross College [169]
 New Jersey 2000 Saint Peter's College [170]
 North Carolina 2000 North Carolina State University Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [171]
 Texas 2001 St. Edward's University
 New Jersey 2001 Georgian Court College
 Ohio 2002 Ohio State University Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [172]
 Indiana 2002 Ivy Tech State College
 California 2002 University of San Diego

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charlotte Ames, compiler (1989). Theodore M. Hesburgh: A Bio-Bibliography. Bio-Bibliographies in Education. Vol. 1. New York: Greenwood Press. p. 4. ISBN 0313265089.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Linda C. Gugin and James E. St. Clair, ed. (2015). Indiana's 200: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press. p. 170. ISBN 978-0-87195-387-2.
  3. ^ a b Ames, p. 3.
  4. ^ Michael O'Brien (1998). Hesburgh: A Biography. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. pp. 7. ISBN 0813209218.
  5. ^ a b Martin L. McAuliffe Jr. (1970). Profiles of Excellence. Evansville, Indiana: University of Evansville Press. p. 117. OCLC 575784.
  6. ^ "The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh dies at 97; Syracuse native transformed Notre Dame". Associated Press. February 27, 2015. Retrieved February 28, 2015.
  7. ^ Ames, pp. 4–5.
  8. ^ O'Brien, pp. 19–20.
  9. ^ Hesburgh never finished the Notre Dame undergraduate degree he had begun in 1934; however, the university awarded him an honorary degree in 1984, thirty-two years after he became its president. See Ames, p. 238.
  10. ^ O'Brien, p. 27.
  11. ^ O'Brien, p. 28.
  12. ^ O'Brien, pp. 30–31.
  13. ^ O'Brien, p. 32.
  14. ^ a b Ames, p. 9.
  15. ^ "Fr. Ted's Life: Holy Cross Priest". University of Notre Dame. Retrieved February 28, 2015.
  16. ^ Knudsen, Robert (November 22, 1961). "Presentation of Notre Dame's Laetare Medal to President Kennedy, 1:25PM". John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  17. ^ Paul T. Murray (June 2015). "'To Change the Face of America': Father Theodore M. Hesburgh and the Civil Rights Commission". Indiana Magazine of History. Bloomington: Indiana University. 111 (2): 125. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  18. ^ O'Brien, p. 178.
  19. ^ "The University Presidents: 'Father Ted' Has Reshaped Notre Dame". Indianapolis Star. Indianapolis, Indiana: 1F, 4F. May 24, 1987. O'Brien, pp. 1, 178, says the faculty salaries increased from $5,400 to $50,800, the university's endowment grew from $9 million to $350 million, and student enrollment doubled. Ames, p. 1, reported that during Hesburgh's tenure as president, the university's endowment increased from $10 million to more than $450 million, enrollment nearly doubled, and the annual operating budget increased from $9 to $200 million.
  20. ^ Theodore M. Hesburgh (1990). God, Country, Notre Dame: The Autobiography of Theodore M. Hesburgh. New York: Doubleday. pp. 303–04. ISBN 9780385266802. Hesburgh claimed that during his thirty-five years as Notre Dame's president, its annual operating budget increased from $6 million to $230 million, student enrollment doubled, the number of faculty tripled, and the endowment increased from $6 million to more than $500 million.
  21. ^ a b c d e Gugin and St. Clair, eds., p. 171.
  22. ^ During Hesburgh's presidency, the number of buildings at Notre Dame increased from 48 to 88. See O'Brien, p. 178.
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  24. ^ McAuliffe, p. 117.
  25. ^ a b Ames, p. 21.
  26. ^ Ames, pp. 10–11.
  27. ^ a b Murray, pp. 146–47.
  28. ^ Ames, p. 11.
  29. ^ O'Brien, p. 109.
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  34. ^ a b Murray, p. 122.
  35. ^ Murray, pp. 145–46.
  36. ^ O'Brien, pp. 100–7; 117–24. For Hesburgh's account of these events, See God, Country, Notre Dame, pp. 106–18.
  37. ^ Ames, pp. 13, 17.
  38. ^ O'Brien, p. 163.
  39. ^ a b c d e f g Anne Hendershott (2009). Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. p. 15.
  40. ^ a b O'Brien, pp. 64–65.
  41. ^ a b Murray, p. 133.
  42. ^ O’Brien, p. 87.
  43. ^ a b Murray, pp. 139–40.
  44. ^ a b Murray, pp. 147–50.
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  46. ^ O’Brien, pp. 189–90.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Hahnenberg, Edward P. "Theodore M. Hesburgh, Theologian: Revisiting Land O’Lakes Fifty Years Later." Theological Studies 78.4 (2017): 930-959.
  • Hahnenberg, Edward P. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC: Bridge Builder (Liturgical Press, 2020) online.
  • Murray, Paul T. " 'To Change the Face of America': Father Theodore M. Hesburgh and the Civil Rights Commission." Indiana Magazine of History 111.2 (2015): 121-154. online
  • Ream, Todd C. and Michael J. James, eds. Hesburgh of Notre Dame: Assessments of a Legacy (2022) essays by experts. excerpt

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by Cover of Time magazine
February 9, 1962
Succeeded by
Preceded by Public Welfare Medal
Succeeded by
Educational offices
Preceded by President of the University of Notre Dame
Succeeded by
Preceded by
President of the Harvard Board of Overseers
Succeeded by
Renee M. Landers
Political offices
Preceded by Chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights
Succeeded by
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by Chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation
Succeeded by