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Faculty reflect on legacy of Fr. Hesburgh

| Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The effects of University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore “Ted” Hesburgh’s life and work were felt worldwide but especially resonated on campus.

Campus staff and faculty, some of whom worked at the University during his presidency, felt pride in working for a school associated with such a progressive, influential figure.

For Edward Hums, who teaches accounting and serves as the University’s first faculty-in-residence with his wife, Shirley, Hesburgh’s influence was prevalent before he ever stepped foot on campus.

“My mom and my dad would always talk about how they had this great young priest from Notre Dame who came to Mishawaka to do their Pre-Cana after my dad returned from World War II,” Hums said. “This handsome young priest was Fr. Hesburgh, so in our house, nothing was more respected than Notre Dame, no one was more respected than Fr. Hesburgh.”

Hums was able to develop a personal relationship with Hesburgh throughout his time as a Notre Dame. He said Hesburgh had an active presence both on and off campus during his presidency.

“As students, we felt pride in having Fr. Hesburgh as our University’s president,” he said. “There were all these other presidents of Universities, and all those guys were just bookworms. Our president was doing everything and doing so all around the world.”

Hums said after he graduated, he worked with Fr. Hesburgh in the Main Building for many years.

“He was a people person,” he said. “He cared for everyone, and people respected his opinions. We were at a contentious Board of Trustees meeting about signing an NBC contract, and Father got up and spoke for about a minute.

“He expressed his approval, saying, ‘You know, I think this is a good idea. I might have done something like this when I was president.’ And the contention dissipated — it was decided.”

It was this presence and power that Robert Schmuhl, chair of the American studies department, remembers as well.

“Fr. Hesburgh was always a voice of moral clarity on domestic and international issues,” he said. “Just as importantly, his words led to actions that changed and improved the lives of the people affected by those issues. He was unafraid in addressing and taking a stand on controversial issues, never flinching in the face of criticism.”

For a few summers in the late 1990s, Edward and Shirley Hums spent two or three weeks at Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin, as Hesburgh’s guests.

“He had a little rustic cabin on the property,” Shirley Hums said. “He was never more relaxed than when he was out on the lakes. He would read all night and come down to breakfast around 1 or 2 p.m. to pour himself a bowl of cereal and chat.”

Although their time at the cabin was spent fishing and relaxing, Land O’Lakes served as a central spot for many of the historical decisions Hesburgh coordinated. For example, Hums said the cabin’s dining table “looked just like a normal dining room table” to him, until Hesburgh elaborated on its history.

“Father would say, ‘Well, you know, this is the table around which we did the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights vote. This is where we made the Land O’Lakes Statement to define what it means to be a Catholic university.”

Hesburgh was a man who was remembered by stories and decisions like these, but he was also remembered for his daily interactions, expressing warmth and gratitude to all he met.

Jim Yates, a staff member at Hesburgh Library, was one of the many touched by these small but memorable interactions.

“I work the weekends, and every morning, Fr. Hesburgh would come in and ask for his reader for the newspaper,” Yates said. “He was a warm-hearted man who embraced everything Notre Dame and this library are about. His presence is and will continue to be felt and embraced in this workplace.”

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