|May 18, 2015 • VOL. 53, NO. 10 • Oakland, CAA|
Father Ted: a priest, a friend, an American hero
My wife Gina and I visited with Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, my alma mater, the last time in August 2014. Father Ted, as he was affectionately known, passed away the evening of Feb. 26, 2015, at the age of 97. Our friend and rector of the Cathedral of Christ the Light, Father Jay Matthews, will celebrate a Memorial Mass for Father Ted, a priest, a friend, an American hero.
Come, Holy Spirit, I need you
Come, Sweet Spirit, I pray you
Come in your strength and your power
Come in your own special way
Father Hesburgh celebrated his last Mass on the morning of his passing. Undoubtedly, he called upon the Holy Spirit. He had a pastoral side that touched countless people throughout the university, the country, the world. Father Ted spoke several languages, five fluently, traveled around the world seven times, but always wanted to be known foremost as a priest. Father Ted positively affected whoever he encountered, no matter where, no matter their station in life. He spoke the language of the Holy Spirit.
With co-editor, renowned journalist, fellow Notre Dame graduate, Don Wycliff, I co-edited a book called "Black Domers: Seventy Years at Notre Dame." Father Hesburgh provided the foreword to "Black Domers," which celebrates the matriculation of the first African American student at Notre Dame, Frazier L. Thompson. Father Hesburgh proudly remarks in his foreword that in addition to the 1972 admission of women to Notre Dame, the influx of racial minority students was the university's biggest change: "I am privileged to have not merely witnessed this change, but also to have helped create it."
Because of Father Hesburgh' s insistence that Notre Dame invite, admit and sustain black and other racial minority students at Our Lady's University, many black alumni essayists in "Black Domers" express their appreciation of and outright love for Father Ted.
And what a hero. When former President Richard Nixon won his second term in office, he promptly discharged Father Hesburgh as chair of the US Civil Rights Commission. Nixon had enough of Father Hesburgh' s incessant push for the enhancement of civil rights in our nation. As a bit of irony, Nixon sent a black federal judge to Father Hesburgh's Washington office to notify him that he had 24 hours to vacate the premises. Then there is the iconic photo of Father Hesburgh, hand in hand with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., at a Chicago human rights rally, where other notables and politicians shied away from a public demonstration with Dr. King. No wonder that Father Hesburgh' s autobiography is named "God, Country, Notre Dame."
Father Ted was a dear friend who endured me as a student leader in the '60s and '70s and later honored me by asking me to sign his copy of "Black Domers." A favorite refrain of Father Ted's was that he always wanted to "show up." He was proud of the fact that he was the then oldest living Holy Cross priest in his community. His friend, the late Father Charles Sheedy, told Father Ted that the secret to life was simply "showing up." At my last meeting with Father Ted I told him that every time someone opened up "Black Domers," he would "show up."
Father Ted, thanks for showing up as a priest, a friend, and an American hero.
(David Krashna is a retired Alameda County Superior Court judge, a 1971 Notre Dame graduate and its first and still only African American student body president. All profits from the sale of "Black Domers: Seventy Years at Notre Dame" are donated to the Notre Dame Frazier L. Thompson Scholarship Fund.)
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