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Book of letters to Hesburgh released

Nicole O'Connor | Wednesday, September 26, 2007

CHICAGO – About 60 Notre Dame alumnae gathered at the University Club here Monday to celebrate the release of “Thanking Father Ted: Thirty-Five Years of Notre Dame Coeducation 1972-2007,” a book sponsored by the Thanking Father Ted Foundation in celebration of former University President Father Theodore Hesburgh and his decision to admit women into the University.

The keynote speaker, 1967 graduate Jim Lynch, was the same man that 40 years ago led the crusade to keep women from to the University.

“Bless me, Father [Hesburgh,] for I have sinned,” Lynch said. “The 1967 transgression I’m referring to was my boneheaded, wrong-thinking opposition to the decision to make Notre Dame coeducational.”

When Notre Dame announced plans to merge with Saint Mary’s College, much of -the all-male student body at the time voiced its opposition. Besides the notoriety he gained as the captain of Notre Dame’s 1966 national championship football team, Lynch was an originator of the “Better Dead Than Coed” movement that swept the campus in 1967.

Only after the merger talks broke down in December of 1971 did Hesburgh make the decision to open undergraduate student enrollment to women in the fall of 1972.

“Thanking Father Ted” contains 150 letters written by Notre Dame alumnae to Hesburgh, telling him how their lives have been impacted by their undergraduate experiences at Notre Dame.

Included in the book are letters from the top 25 University administrators in 1972, the first undergraduate women who attained leadership roles on campus and famous members of the Notre Dame community – including Regis Philbin, Lou Holtz and Anne Thompson, chief environmental correspondent for NBC News.

The book retails for $26.95 and is available for purchase at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore and online at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

The book’s editor, 1973 graduate Ann Therese Darin Palmer, explained the idea behind the book and the goals the letters hope to achieve among the younger Notre Dame generations.

“Last Saturday, when Jim Lynch unveiled the statue of Ara Parseghian, Ara said he hoped his former players over the years would stop by and visit the statue,” Palmer told the crowd at the book launch.

“‘Tell your children or grandchildren your own story about being part of this history,’ Ara said. ‘Stop a while and try to listen to the echoes. They’ll be here.'”

She said Parseghian, who contributed a letter to the book, could have just as easily been talking about Hesburgh and his contribution to the history of Notre Dame.

“We’ve got a similar goal. Besides thanking Father Ted for the tremendous gift he gave us, we wanted to tell our children, grandchildren, other Domer alumnae, particularly recent graduates and women on campus today, what it was like to be one of Notre Dame’s co-ed pioneers,” Palmer said.

Several of the gathered alumnae read from their own letters, including 1972 graduate Mary Davey Bliley, the University’s first female to receive an undergraduate degree. Illinois Appellate Court Justice Sheila O’Brien – a 1977 and 1980 graduate and the winner of this year’s Rev. Edward Sorin Alumni Association Award for Distinguished Service to the University – and Roxanne Martino O’Brien – a 1977 graduate, president of the Mendoza College Business Advisory Council and the president and CEO of Harris Alternatives, an $11 billion Chicago-based hedge fund – expressed their gratitude to Hesburgh.

University President Father John Jenkins will give a speech here on “Notre Dame Coeducation: The Past, Present and Future” here on Oct. 22.

Palmer said the event will be open to all Notre Dame students, parents and alumni. Guests at the luncheon, she said, will include Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Notebaert and many Chicago-based trustees.

In addition to the newly released book, the Thanking Father Ted Foundation – an independent, private foundation of Notre Dame alumnae – is selling two posters for $16.95 each. All profits from the poster sales will benefit the Notre Dame Gender Relations Center.

The first poster is a reprint of the 1972 poster recruiting the first undergraduate women to apply to the University. The second poster commemorates the 35th anniversary of Notre Dame coeducation.

To purchase tickets for the Oct. 22 event with Jenkins, visit www.thankingfatherted.com