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Students celebrate with Hesburgh

Tori Roeck | Monday, August 27, 2012

Zahm House celebrated its 75th anniversary Sunday by honoring one of the few people on campus older than the dorm itself: 95-year-old University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh.

The event began in the Hesburgh Library Auditorium with a reading of the “Hesburgh Challenge,” an agreement for all residents of Zahm House to live out Hesburgh’s legacy in their lives, and continued with an address from Hesburgh himself and a sharing of cigars near the Reflecting Pool.

Zahm rector Scott Opperman said honoring Hesburgh was a great way to start off a historic year for the dorm.

“The guys love him, and he means so much to Zahm and to the whole university,” Opperman said. “Zahm has stood up and said, ‘We want to carry on his legacy,’ and that’s a great way to celebrate our 75th anniversary … You could tell that he was touched. He even had a tear up there.”

Opperman said he designed the contents of the “Hesburgh Challenge” to reflect Hesburgh’s priorities.

“It’s things that Fr. Ted stands for, like service, sustainability, being inclusive,” he said. “The number-one thing was being inclusive and welcoming, and obviously that’s top on Fr. Hesburgh’s list.”

To prioritize being inclusive, the men of Zahm agreed to respect themselves and others.

The “Challenge” states, “We will never tolerate discrimination or hate-speech based on ability, age, class, color, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.”

Zahm’s residents pledged to end their “Ole, ole, ole” chant and will challenge others to do the same.

The “Challenge” also emphasizes service and charity.

“We shall dedicate ourselves to service,” the document states. “We will all participate in at least one House or University-sponsored service opportunity. We shall make larger donations to charity, especially through the profits of Za, our pizza parlor.”

After the recitation of the Challenge, Hesburgh thanked the men of Zahm for honoring him and imparted words of advice.

“Zahm has always been outstanding among the many halls at Notre Dame,” Hesburgh said. “Zahm always had, like the Germans call it, zeitgeist. They had a spirit, a kind of feeling and character, a kind of daring … I’m very lucky to be adopted as a part of the family by Zahm.”

Hesburgh said students should have the courage to be themselves and disagree with each other, even if that means questioning the status quo.

“Don’t be afraid to disagree,” he said. “I think one of the greatest values of an intelligent life is to disagree. At this point in your life, you’re deciding how to come down on things, tough things like sex or tough things like honesty or tough things like intelligence or tough things like being able to stand up in front of the crowd and say, ‘I don’t believe that and here are my reasons why.’ … That’s one reason I’m very proud of you guys, that you can stand up and say what you think.”

In addition to giving advice, Hesburgh recounted a story of one of his most interesting experiences, which involved saying Mass at the South Pole. A Notre Dame graduate who had been assigned to take command of a group of researchers there asked Hesburgh to bless his mission remotely, but Hesburgh said he decided to do it in person instead.

“That day was the first Mass at sea on an icebreaker and the second Mass at the South Pole,” he said.

Even after traveling the world, Hesburgh said Notre Dame is still the closest place to his heart.

“Notre Dame is the best Catholic university, not just in the world today, but ever,” he said.

Hesburgh said he prays for all Notre Dame students daily and is confident the residents of Zahm in particular will lead extraordinary lives.

After his speech, the men of Zahm dubbed Hesburgh an “honorary Zahmbie,” gifting him with a dorm t-shirt, water bottle, bumper sticker and key to the residence hall.

Freshman Christian Metzler said meeting Hesburgh was a special moment for him.

“Fr. Hesburgh is a legend here at Notre Dame, and you hear great things about him all the time, and the fact that we were able to get to meet him and [make him] an honorary Zahmbie really means a lot, even as a freshman,” Metzler said. “I’m blessed that we had this opportunity to meet him and hear what he had to say. We could’ve listened to him for hours.”

Junior John Brahier said Hesburgh’s speech was incredibly powerful.

“The words of wisdom he was able to share with us will definitely be in our hearts for a long time,” Brahier said. “They will definitely inspire us to do bigger and better things in the coming years, and we’re really excited about that future.”

Senior Peter Flores said the experience of smoking cigars with Hesburgh is unforgettable.

“Fr. Ted is known for smoking a cigar or two, and there’s no greater bonding experience among men than smoking a cigar with a guy you look up to,” Flores said.

Metzler said he looks forward to the positive results that will come of the “Hesburgh Challenge.”

“We’re really looking to become more inclusive,” Metzler said. “It’s a huge thing, especially at a Catholic university, to accept everyone, and in a residence system where it’s all random. Even if you don’t have the same views as someone, respect what their views are and teach them about your views and learn from other people.”

Senior Zahm resident assistant Luke Peters said he would take the “Hesburgh Challenge” very seriously.

“I hope to live out the ‘Hesburgh Challenge’ by taking it upon myself to take the extra effort to stand for what Fr. Hesburgh did in his life, with that same spirit of inclusion, strong morals and character which he was able to carry out through his time at the University and what he still stands for today,” Peters said.

Flores, also a resident assistant, said he hopes the “Hesburgh Challenge” will foster a familial atmosphere in Zahm.

“Families don’t always get along,” Flores said. “Families aren’t always on the same page. But families love each other and stick with each other. That’s the real challenge, to make the Notre Dame family … alive.”

Contact Tori Roeck at