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Hesburgh featured in film

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, November 2, 2005

The exceptional life of University President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh, which includes extensive public service as well as storied leadership of Notre Dame, has been captured in a documentary to air this weekend on the Hallmark Channel.

“God, Country, Notre Dame” features interviews with three former U.S. presidents, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian, as well as Notre Dame officials, Holy Cross priests and current students.

The film affirms Hesburgh’s faith as the source of his seemingly endless energy and commitment to equality, peace and higher education.

“He has been asked to resolve the greatest social issues of our times … He was president of the University of Notre Dame for 35 years, has kept his door open to its students for 61 years and has received 150 honorary degrees from universities all over the world,” the film said. “Yet when asked to give an account of himself, he chose but one word: priest.”

The comprehensive documentary features Hesburgh’s own commentary, photos from his young life and at Notre Dame, as well as footage from historical moments in which he participated.

More intimate and lesser-known sides of Hesburgh are also shown, including his love of flying and his friendship with former University Executive Vice President Father Edmund “Ned” Joyce.

A highlight of the film is the inclusion of interviews with Joyce, who suffered a fatal stroke on May 2, 2004 at Holy Cross House on campus.

Near the end of his life, Joyce lay dying in the company of lifelong friend and longtime colleague Hesburgh, who administered last rites to the ailing priest.

Hesburgh was pleased with the film and said it was one of four documentaries on his life.

“I think it was extremely well done, and I think they didn’t spare anything. They took shots of Jerusalem … they took shots of Washington, D.C.,” Hesburgh said. “And then they have shots of campus, which is probably the best of all.

“You get a sense watching it that it’s very professional. They covered all the points,” he said. “It will be good for Notre Dame, I hope.”

The network premiere culminates a five-year project by Family Theater Productions, a Catholic media ministry in Hollywood founded in 1947 and sponsored by the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Father Willy Raymond, executive producer and a former Holy Cross Seminary student at Notre Dame, said Family Theater sought to put together a thorough look at Hesburgh’s inspirational leadership that could be widely viewed.

“I really hope that [viewers] will take away a couple of messages, but one especially, in the words of Father Ted, is that every single person can make a difference in this world,” Raymond said.

Hesburgh’s invocation of the Holy Spirit in times of confusion or discouragement also provides a powerful witness to viewers and the Notre Dame community, Raymond said.

“I hope that the generation of students who are at the University now know what a towering figure Father Ted was and is,” he said.

“God, Country, Notre Dame” will air at 12 p.m. Sunday.

The DVD includes an introduction by Raymond and an informal conversation between Hesburgh and students. It is available at the Hammes Bookstore.