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Full Transcript: Fr. Jenkins reflects on Fr. Hesburgh

| Friday, February 27, 2015

University President Fr. John Jenkins addressed the media Friday morning to discuss University President Emeritus Fr. Ted Hesburgh, who died Thursday at the age of 97. Fr. Jenkins’ full comments are below:

“Welcome, everyone. Thank you for coming.

“Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., the longest-serving president of the University of Notre Dame, died last night at Holy Cross House, here on the campus of his beloved University. He was 97 years old and 71 years a priest with the Congregation of Holy Cross.

“I extended my heartfelt condolences to the Hesburgh family, to my brothers in the Congregation of Holy Cross, to the University of Notre Dame family and to all those whose lives were touched and enriched by Fr. Hesburgh’s remarkable life and ministry.

“Fr. Hesburgh was the 15th president of the University of Notre Dame, from 1952 until his retirement in 1987. Next to the University’s founder, Fr. Edward Sorin, no one had a greater impact on this University.

“He was one of the nation’s most influential figures in higher education, the Catholic Church and national and international affairs. Serving four popes and nine presidents, Fr. Hesburgh was a moral force in virtually all major social issues of his day, including civil rights, peaceful uses of atomic energy, campus unrests, third-world development and immigration reform.

“Whatever else we may say about Fr. Ted, he was a priest and a man of faith who had a confident hope in God’s love and the promise of eternal life. We believe he is now with the God he served so faithfully and in the arms of Notre Dame, Our Lady, whom he was so devoted to.

“Notre Dame lost a piece of its heart last night, but Fr. Ted lives on at Notre Dame and among the millions of lives he touched around the world.”

Jenkins responds to questions from the media.

On classes for the coming days:

“We’ll have a wake on Tuesday, the funeral will be on Wednesday.  Classes from 12:20 on will be cancelled on Wednesday … but will resume again on Thursday.”

On whether Hesburgh’s death was anticipated:

“You know, Fr. Hesburgh, he’s 97, he would have been 98 in May, but he lost his sight to macular degeneration. He was slowing down but he had good days and bad days.

“I think he was going to the office until, I believe, last week. He celebrated Mass daily; he had a cigar daily. He was very engaged. The past week, he seemed to slow down a bit. He wasn’t going to the office. We knew when he wasn’t going to the office that that was a sign.

He was actually, even yesterday I’m told — I didn’t see him yesterday — but I’m told he was engaged, talking to people, seemed okay but in the evening seemed to struggle to breathe and passed away a little bit before midnight.”

On his most recent conversation with Hesburgh:

“Well, I saw him last Sunday. I was having a cigar; I went over, and we had a nice conversation and he seemed in good spirits. He’s always been so encouraging about my work as president. He was — He had become a great friend of my mother and he asked about my mother; we talked about mom a lot. And so it was just a usual conversation and he — he was as jovial and excited about life as ever in that conversation.”

On how his presidency was influenced by Hesburgh:

“You know, I was a student in the 1970s when Fr. Hesburgh was president, and those were the days when he was very much involved in the national scene. He had been very prominent in civil rights and segregation, obviously in the conferences in the ‘60s over the war, in the Catholic Church.

“He was — I did not know him when I was an undergraduate, I mean, personally, but he was an admired figure for me and an inspiration for me in so many ways. When I entered the Congregation of Holy Cross, I entered studies and I got to know him better. I mean, again, he was still kind of a revered figure for me, but always encouraging, and he was a model for me as a priest, as a religious, as an academic, and I always looked up to him.

“When I became President, he became really a mentor, an advisor, a confidant in so many ways, and I had many conversations with him. I remember one of the things he said that’s always stayed with me is ‘Stay close to the students.’ I mean, he was loved by and he loved our students. So I took that advice, and he — and I appreciated that.

“In challenging times, he was always there. He was always encouraging. I mentioned my mother — in 2009, we invited President Obama and there was a great deal of controversy about that, as you may recall. He heard that that, you know, and it was a difficult time — but without asking me, talking to me, he called my mom, just to say I would be — this would turn out well. They became best friends from that day and that’s — sorry — that’s Fr. Ted. He cared about people.

On the turnout for Fr. Ted’s wake and funeral:

“We expect a big turnout. We expect many people to come and many people notable people to come. He had the opportunity to outlive most of his contemporaries, so if he had died at an earlier age, I’m sure we would have even more people and more distinguished people.

“But even so he was a genuine friend. Fr. Ted was the only person I know who’d come to breakfast in the morning and say, ‘The President called me last night.’ He was friends with presidents and they would call him for advice. I’m told President Carter has a letter in The Observer. My guess is that a number of people will come to celebrate this very life.”

On who Fr. Jenkins has heard from today:

“I haven’t gotten the full rundown but as I said, I think President Carter has a letter in The Observer. And I’m sure we’ll hear more in the coming days.”

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