Books Catholicism Leadership

Father Ted Hesburgh’s Ambition & Conflicted Legacy ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Can there be such a thing as a fantastic Catholic university, if greatness is defined as Princeton and Harvard and Yale—and Fr. Hesburgh—would outline it? In all probability not. Fr. Hesburgh failed to realize the objective that he set for himself, while succeeding enormously at one thing that he didn’t got down to do.

American Priest: The Formidable Life and Conflicted Legacy of Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh, by Wilson D. Miscamble, C.S.C. (442 pages, Crown Publishing, 2019)

This can be a biography that has been within the works for almost as long as its topic was president of Notre Dame University. In 1994 Fr. Miscamble, C.S.C. (Congregation of the Holy Cross) was chair of the Notre Dame historical past department. It was then that he first approached Father Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., about writing his biography. That may be roughly seven years after Fr. Hesburgh’s thirty-five yr run as Notre Dame president had finally ended.

1 / 4 century is an extended gestation interval, even for a e-book. Little question part of the delay may be attributed to Fr. Miscamble’s numerous scholarly tasks and duties. However one other half may properly be explained by Fr. Hesburgh’s very lengthy life. Born in 1917, he lived to be almost 98.

Maybe the subtitle gives a broad hint at the cause for what may need been the writer’s reluctance to hurry to a printed judgment. In any case, this story of an American priest/president could be very much a story of an “ambitious life,” however one so formidable that it contributed to what turned out to be a “conflicted legacy.”

In a way the same may be stated of the venture and the writer. Given the subject’s overly prolonged thirty-five tenure, and his overly committed life beyond Notre Dame, this biographical undertaking is by definition formidable. And given the story he had to inform and his personal affiliation with Notre Dame, Fr. Miscamble couldn’t assist however be conflicted himself.

The e-book is split into two almost equal halves. Following an introductory chapter on Hesburgh’s youth and the “preparation of a priest-president,” Miscamble devotes 5 chapters to Hesburgh’s management of Notre Dame and 4 chapters to his non-Notre Dame work “serving popes and presidents.” Every half covers a lot of the identical chronological territory, however there’s very little overlap between the 2.

Fr. Hesburgh was all the time a very busy man, not to mention a very formidable one as properly. On the outset that ambition was directed solely at issues immediately related to Notre Dame. Over time one of the best that can be stated is that his focus shifted. Definitely, Fr. Hesburgh (Fr. Ted to Fr. Miscamble and lots of more) by no means forgot about Notre Dame or that he was president of it. But more and more much of his attention was devoted to the bigger nationwide, and even bigger international, stage.

At the similar time, it have to be stated that Fr. Ted never, ever forgot that he was a Catholic priest. Nor did he ever shirk, ignore, or draw back from his priestly position and duties. He beloved both serving as a priest and dwelling as a priest. Never so much as a whiff of scandal, and even so much as a hint of impropriety, might ever be related to him.

Not that Fr. Miscamble was on a mission to show or in any other case injury the status of a fellow member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Removed from it. In lots of respects and for many reasons he appreciates and admires the work that Fr. Hesburgh did for Notre Dame.

And but… and yet he’s clearly conflicted. When Fr. Hesburgh assumed the presidency of Notre Dame in 1952, his all-consuming ambition was to make that college into a fantastic Catholic college. What he completed as an alternative was to make Notre Dame into nothing more than an awesome university. That might be a fantastic university by any trendy secular normal, or no less than a college of which its football group could possibly be proud.

To make certain, Notre Dame shouldn’t be secular in the same approach that Harvard and Yale are secular. Plenty within the dorms are plentiful and frequent. The similar could be stated in relation to opportunities for Catholic social service tasks. And finally report neither Yale nor Harvard had a Sacred Coronary heart Church, a grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary, or a Landing Jesus.

However what concerning the classroom? Right here Fr. Hesburgh lost his method. Or, extra accurately, right here is where he failed to seek out his approach. In his willpower to construct a terrific Catholic university Fr. Hesburgh careworn attaining greatness insofar as its endowment, buildings, research packages, graduate and professional faculties, and institutes are involved. Left somewhere within the shuffle was undergraduate schooling, together with its theology and philosophy departments. Properly, no less than there still is a theology (as opposed to a spiritual research) division.

Fr. Miscamble skillfully guides us by way of the jungle of campus politics. We study the names of the important thing players. We study their strengths and weaknesses. We come to know that Fr. Ted knew very properly their strengths and weaknesses. We come to appreciate his administrative skills and the sincerity of his intentions. We also come to appreciate the sincerity of Miscamble’s appreciation of Hesburgh’s strengths and sincerity.

However as the size of Hesburgh’s presidential tenure extends, and as the measurement of the Hesburgh resume expands, and because the record of his appointments, awards, accolades, honors, and pursuits grows, one begins to marvel what it was all for. Was it really all for Notre Dame, one wonders? At occasions, Miscamble seems to marvel as properly, whilst he seems to be making an attempt very arduous to not marvel too much.

Two conclusions can’t be prevented. In the long run, and doubtless properly earlier than the top, Fr. Ted did not make Notre Dame into an ideal and a Catholic university. Secondly, Fr. Hesburgh succeeded in making himself into a member in excellent standing of the completely liberal wing of the American establishment. He supported the Vietnam Warfare when it was respectable to help it; and he opposed the exact same conflict when it turned respectable to oppose it. To be truthful, he was for civil rights for black People before that place was absolutely respectable, even amongst liberals (assume JFK and RFK).

To place both conclusions a bit in a different way, Fr. Hesburgh failed to realize the aim that he set for himself, while succeeding drastically at one thing that he did not got down to do. He steadily let the prevailing educational culture eat away at Notre Dame, and simply as regularly he let the larger political culture eat away at him. In the long run it was more necessary to Fr. Ted that he be thought nicely of by the secular powers that be than that his Notre Dame stand as a everlasting challenge to those powers. It additionally proved to be extra essential to him that he be thought nicely of by sure presidents (especially Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Carter, and most particularly early within the phrases of the final two) than by sure popes (especially Popes Paul VI and John Paul II as each papacy unfolded).

None of that is to recommend that Fr. Ted caved to outdoors secular strain across the board. Let’s take two examples, one very critical and one much much less so: abortion and football. As to the former, Fr. Hesburgh by no means deserted Catholic educating. As for the latter, Fr. Ted never turned the keys over to the inmates. When it came to abortion, he never wavered on his pro-life place, however he by no means needed the difficulty to be entrance and middle. He wasn’t quite a Mario Cuomo (“I’m personally opposed”) Catholic, however he permitted that Governor Cuomo to use Notre Dame to make what was primarily a pro-choice case.

When it got here to the intense, however finally significantly frivolous matter of soccer, Hesburgh waffled, quite than caved or conquered. Not to equate the intense and unserious, however there was a comparability of types in Hesburgh’s all the time cautious thoughts. He needed the abortion difficulty to be necessary, but not too necessary; and he needed football to be essential, but not too necessary. For every Frank Leahy there was a Terry Brennan. And for each Ara Parseghian there was a Gerry Faust.

To stretch an analogy to its breaking level, if not beyond, by the top of Fr. Hesburgh’s tenure Notre Dame football was led by Lou Holtz and on the verge of a nationwide championship, while Fr. Ted was still a member of the Rockefeller Commission, which was still dedicated to population management in all of its numerous ways, including abortion.

Alongside the best way, Fr. Hesburgh most popular to challenge Pope Paul VI on Humanae Vitae, quite than see his wisdom or bow to his authority. He additionally chose to problem Pope John Paul II on Ex Corde Eccllesiae relatively than to applaud his efforts to guarantee that Catholic schools have been educating Catholic theology. In a very real sense, all that Pope John Paul II was making an attempt to assure was what Fr. Theodore Hesburgh had sought to perform when he turned Notre Dame’s president.

In fact, Fr. Hesburgh had got down to accomplish a number of different things as properly, chief among them the transformation of Notre Dame into a terrific college throughout the board, in addition to an incredible college that was also a Catholic university.

Can there be such a factor as an awesome Catholic university, if greatness is outlined as Princeton and Harvard and Yale—and Fr. Hesburgh—would define it? In all probability not.

Should anyone serve as president of something, not to mention a serious university, for thirty-five years? In all probability not.

Had Fr. Hesburgh seen fit to go away that workplace after a good, if exhausting, dozen years, there won’t have been the infamous gathering of Catholic educational chieftains on the Notre Dame Land O’Lakes retreat home in the summertime of 1967. And there won’t have been a 1972 choice of the Holy Cross father to turn management of Notre Dame over to a lay board.

Had Fr. Hesburgh left the Notre Dame presidency in the mid-1960s he then would have had rather more time to do what he increasingly desired to do anyway: influencing the world past Notre Dame, while mixing, mingling with—and accommodating himself to—the movers and shakers of America and the world.

And Notre Dame? The university may still be what it as soon as was and still ought to be, specifically nothing more—or less—than a superb Catholic college. Fr. Miscamble refuses to go this far, but the tale that he has informed leads to this sad conclusion.

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the dialogue of culture and politics as we strategy dialogue with magnanimity slightly than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis within the more and more contentious area of recent discourse? Please contemplate donating now.

Editor’s Observe: The featured image is a element from a photograph of Father Theodore Hesburgh on the Civil Rights Committee (2008), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author

Admin