He was born Theodore Martin Hesburgh on May 25, 1917 in Syracuse, New York to Anne Murphy Hesburgh and Theodore Bernard Hesburgh, an executive with the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company which was just coming into prominence in the new century. After Catholic elementary schooling and high school he was accepted at Notre Dame University in 1934 where he simultaneously began feeling the call to the priesthood and, counseled by the Holy Cross Fathers who have always taught at the University, planned his curriculum around preparation for the priesthood. After graduating from the South Bend, Indiana institution with a degree in philosophy, he continued at the Gregorian University in Rome. Returning to the states, he was ordained a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross in Sacred Heart Church on the Notre Dame campus on June 24, 1943 by Bishop John F. Noll of the Diocese of Fort Wayne. After ordination he was sent to Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. to complete his studies, obtaining his doctorate in Theology in 1945. That same year he was assigned to the Notre Dame faculty to teach Religion as well as inaugurating a new endeavor on campus, ministering as chaplain to students who were returning veterans of World War II. Three years later he was appointed head of the Religion Department and in 1949 University President Father John J. Cavanaugh appointed him executive vice president of the University.
In June 1952 Fr. Cavanaugh stepped down and heavily endorsed Fr. Hesburgh to replace him. The Congregation of the Holy Cross and Regents agreed and Fr. Theodore Hesburgh became the 15th and youngest president ever of this storied institution founded in 1842. When he took over in the early fifties life was simple, America was on the resurgence after the war and a building boom was underway. The quiet, relatively small campus in South Bend, Indiana just south of the Michigan border and ninety miles from Chicago, would never be the same. Over the three and a half decades he ruled as head of the University, the campus more than tripled in size and enrollment doubled to 9,600. Endowments in the millions were added to the coffers of Notre Dame, countless scholarships established and the faculty greatly enlarged from 389 to 950 with experts in all fields brought in to form a prestigious faculty to rival any institution of higher learning worldwide. Notre Dame's annual operating budget skyrocketed from $9.7 million in 1952 to over $176 million when he stepped down in 1987 and endowments went from $9 million to $350 million, a phenomenal increase.
Fr. Hesburgh effected many major changes, most notably the transfer in 1967 of the governing of the University from the founding Holy Cross Fathers to a lay Board of Trustees for management of such a large facility was spiraling out of control for the limited number of priests who were not equipped for such a task. It was a sign of the times as many Catholic Universities were forced to do the same. Five years later Notre Dame, for the first time in 120 years began admitting women in the undergraduate program, establishing an exchange program with nearby St. Mary's University, formerly an all female Catholic college.
Perhaps Fr. Hesburgh is best known for his international scope, having served four Popes directly, three as permanent Vatican City representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna from 1956 to 1970. Through his influence and direction, Notre Dame built an Ecumenical Institute at Tantur in Jerusalem in 1972 at the request of Pope Paul VI who also appointed him head of the Vatican representative at the 20th anniversary of the UN's human rights declaration in 1958 in Teheran, Iran as well as in 1974. Pope John Paul II appointed Fr. Hesburgh to the Pontifical Council for Culture in 1983. The year before the president of Notre Dame had helped organize a meeting of 58 of the most respected scientists in the world assembled at the Vatican in calling for the ban of all nuclear weapons.
He served on various secular and religious commissions including director boards and trustees for large corporations and foundations. Presidents, heads of state, and corporate giants also sought him out, appointed him to commissions, and bestowed honors on him such as the prestigious Medal of Freedom, the highest honor for a civilian, which President Lyndon B. Johnson presented to him in 1964. He also was awarded the coveted Meiklejohn Award from the American Association of University Professors in 1970 as well as the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal for worship, the Distinguished Peace Leader Award, the National Service Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award from the National Catholic Education Association. He has been awarded countless honorary degrees from numerous universities all over the world. He also became the first and only priest to serve in an official diplomatic role for the United States government when he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the 1979 UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development by President Jimmy Carter. In 1994, seven years after his resignation from Notre Dame he was asked and accepted the challenge and honor of being the first priest to serve as an overseer at Harvard University, chairing that body until 1996.
With all these responsibilities, he still found time to be first and foremost a priest, saying Mass every day along with his Breviary and prayer despite a day packed with schedules that allotted little time to even grab a cup of coffee, let alone a few minutes of rest and solitude. But he always found time for refurbishing his energy through prayer and his priestly duties. He understood the overwhelming responsibility of Catholic educators today and the challenges and storm warnings. He tempered the hurricanes of modernism and the typhoons of change with a solid, Catholic belief that contemporary Catholic universities such as Notre Dame should deal with the moral as well as the intellectual dimensions of scholarly inquiry.
Now 82, he has slowed down considerably as would be expected of someone of his age and rigorous schedule. But he continues to say Holy Mass as often as he can and still resides on the Notre Dame Campus at Corby Hall with the Holy Cross Fathers community. For over 65 years he has been associated with Notre Dame, the blue and gold surging through his veins and today, Father Theodore Hesburgh's name is associated with excellence, something he always strove for and encouraged others to do the same throughout his tenure as the president of the high-profile Catholic University. For in America, Notre Dame is associated more than any other institution with Catholics. Subway alumni, as they're called, may come out of the woodwork on Saturdays in the fall to cheer for ol' Notre Dame on the gridiron, but all year long they cheer for Fr. Hesburgh and all he has done to perpetuate the image of Notre Dame. His accomplishments and career at Notre Dame shine brightly in the annals of Catholic education like the well-known golden dome on the University's campus.
Dr. Alexander said that, according to his writings, God is perfect, but Sheen quickly put that to the test.
"When [according to Alexander] there was only Space-Time, God was a chemical; when chemicals came into being God was the ideal plant; when plants came into the universe, God was the ideal state of an animal; when there were animals God was the ideal state of man; now that there is man, God is an angel. Someday we will reach that state. God will keep moving ahead as the Urge of the universe…..Well, Dr. Alexander, your God is not yet perfect; He is on the way to perfection. A perfect God would be One Who has at each and every moment of His Being the fullness of perfection." ("Treasure of Clay"; Fulton J. Sheen, pg. 26)
Dr. Alexander admitted that no one had ever put it to him that way before. When Sheen asked him if he would be interested in reading Aquinas, Alexander responded, "No, I would not be interested because you become known in this world not through Truth, but through novelty, and my doctrine is novel." (Ibid.)
Now isn't that odd? The truth doesn't matter, novelty does. It is also odd (don't you think) that an award winning philosopher wouldn't know, or have read, the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas? Though this exchange occurred in the 1920's, it would fit with what is occurring today.
Pope Paul VI wrote: "Now, it is likewise known that at present mankind is undergoing great transformations, upheavals, and the developments which are profoundly changing not only its exterior modes of life but also its ways of thinking. Mankind's range of thought, culture, and spirit have been intimately modified either by scientific, technical and social progress or by the currents of philosophical and political thought which overwhelm or pass through it. All of this, like the waves of an ocean, envelopes and agitates the Church itself. Men committed to the Church are greatly influenced by the climate of the world; so much so that a danger bordering almost on vertiginous confusion and bewilderment can shake the Church's very foundations and lead men to embrace most bizarre ways of thinking, as though the Church should disavow herself and take up the very latest and untried ways of life.
Was not the phenomenon of modernism, for example, which still crops up in the various attempts at expressing what is foreign to the authentic nature of the Catholic religion, an episode of abuse exercised against the faithful and genuine expression of the doctrine and criterion of the Church of Christ by psychological and cultural forces of the profane world? Now it seems to us that to check the oppressive and complex danger coming from many sides, a good and obvious remedy is for the Church to deepen her awareness of what she really is according to the Mind of Christ, as preserved in Sacred Scripture and in Tradition, and interpreted and developed by the authentic tradition of the Church." (ECCLESIAM SUAM (Paths of the Church) Encyclical Letter by Pope Paul VI, #26; Aug. 6, 64)
Cardinal Luciani (later to be known as John Paul I) shared the same concerns: "[Today's preaching] never speaks of the following tragedies of original sin, purgatory, hell, the last judgement….Rare are the preachers who speak to the young about continence and self-control. Often preachers let it be believed, explicitly or implicitly, that such points of Catholic doctrine, taught until recently, are false, superficial, or depasse'." (In an article for La Libre Belgique; Oct. 12, 1978) In fact, the Cardinal went on to use homilies given in one large church in Italy. One week, a theologian denied the humanity of Christ, a week later, another denied the divinity of Christ. A few weeks later, a third cast doubts that Jesus ever really existed historically. (Ibid.)
These sort of challenges would be one thing if they were outside the Church. But these are coming from within the Church.
Cardinal William Baum (former head of the American Bishop's Doctrinal Committee) warned: "The mystery of the Incarnation is being challenged in a profound new way by many theologians and if you have not yet felt the effects of this in your own local dioceses, you will in time. These effects already are being felt in our seminaries and universities, and undoubtedly will affect preaching and teaching in the local churches." (Our Sunday Visitor; May 27, 1979)
Cardinal Baum went on to point out that these 'novel' approaches were similar to ancient 4th and 5th century heresies condemned by the Councils of Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. So, in fact, they aren't novel at all, just 'modernized'. Recall the words of Pope Paul VI: " Was not the phenomenon of modernism, for example, which still crops up in the various attempts at expressing what is foreign to the authentic nature of the Catholic religion, an episode of abuse exercised against the faithful and genuine expression of the doctrine and criterion of the Church of Christ by psychological and cultural forces of the profane world?" (ECCLESIAM SUAM, #26)
Yet, among the 'enlightened' of the Catholic intellectual elite, modernism is promoted. In fact, in Call to Action's referendum, we read, "We see theologians silenced, constructive opposition condemned, loyalty oaths imposed and blind obedience demanded. We call for open dialogue, academic freedom, and due process."
Yet we know that open dialogue for them means that the Church has to submit to their way of thinking. " Men committed to the Church are greatly influenced by the climate of the world; so much so that a danger bordering almost on vertiginous confusion and bewilderment can shake the Church's very foundations and lead men to embrace most bizarre ways of thinking, as though the Church should disavow herself and take up the very latest and untried ways of life."( ECCLESIAM SUAM, #26)
Is it any wonder that in many Universities, the philosophies of Jung, Kant, Voltaire, and Nieztche are embraced, while Aquinas, Augustine and Aristotle are rejected and ridiculed?
Cardinal Mercier (noted for being a brilliant teacher) gave this advice to a young Fulton Sheen: "….always keep current: know what the modern world is thinking about; read its poetry, its history, its literature; observe its architecture, its art; hear its music and its theatre; and then plunge deeply into St. Thomas and the wisdom of the ancients and you will be able to refute its errors." ("Treasure in Clay", pg. 51)
If Aquinas and the ancients can refute the errors of modernism, is it any wonder they don't want them taught? "we need people with chisels inside (the Church) chiseling away at that institution or it is never going to fall." (Sister Maureen Fiedler; CTA conference, Detroit, 1995)
New and novel approaches to life are taught as being freedom. As removing the stale, dry, oppressive shackles of old morals and thinking. Is it any wonder that the teachings of Vatican II are distorted and the teachings of previous Councils are rejected? Is it any wonder that the value of the Scriptures are dismissed, but the old heresies found in Gnostic writings are embraced? Or that practices abandoned by the early Church (because they brought about error and abuse) are resurrected?
We see neo-montanism in those who see themselves as being instruments of the Holy Spirit, putting them above the bishops and the Pope. "The conflict in the Church is from the hierarchy of the Church not listening to the people of God." (Sister Maureen Fiedler; CTA conference, Detroit, 1995)
As though the Pope and the Hierarchy of the Church are opposed to the will of God, and 'they' know what that will is. " Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?' And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'' But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.' So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate" (Genesis 3:1-6).
"Jesus said to them, 'If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of My own accord, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me'" (John 8:42-45).
"But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough" (2 Corinthians 3-4).
"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own liking, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Novelty over truth.
As Pope Paul VI said at a Mass commemorating his 9th anniversary as Pope: "Satan's smoke has made its way into the temple of God through some crack….one no longer trusts the Church; one trusts the first profane prophet that comes along….doubt has entered our consciences and it entered through the windows which should have been open to the Light. It is believed that after the Second Vatican Council there would be a day of sunshine in the history of the Church. There came instead a day of clouds, storm and darkness, of search and uncertainty. This came about through an adverse power; his name is the Devil….We believe that some preternatural thing has come into the world precisely to disturb, to suffocate the fruits of the Ecumenical Council."
Of course, to 'enlightened' Catholics, the devil is only the personification of our own person evil and not a real entity. (Fr. Richard McBrien).
Contrary to what some believe about Pope John XXIII, he made clear what he hoped the effect of the Second Vatican Council would be: "The greatest concern of the ecumenical council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously." (Council Daybook: Vatican II, Sessions 1 and 2, Floyd Anderson, ed., pg 26).
Instead, we hear how John XXIII, supposedly, meant to do away with that deposit for a more, presumably, 'democratic' Church.
So, today, as in the 1920's we see that " you become known in this world not through Truth, but through novelty." (Dr. Alexander) In fact, we seem more enamored with Pilate than Christ by asking, "What is truth?" And through years of universities and seminaries teaching modernism and relativism, we see their affect in our local parishes. "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thessalonians 2:15). ...And not new, novel ideas which tickle the ears and kill the conscience.
Pax Christi, Pat