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Travel with Fr. Ted

| Wednesday, December 2, 2015

“You work in the library?”

“Wait … you asked them for this job?”

“Are you not just bored all the time?”

These are the typical questions received when explaining to other students that you work in the University Archives. Although I typically never trek to the library to study from my cozy abode in Ryan Hall, this job makes the journey worthwhile.

Yes, on the first day of September, I made the journey to the sixth floor of Hesburgh Library and asked if there were any internship positions available for students. Though I had minimal work experience, they likely sensed my overeager affinity for quiet office spaces and hired me on the spot.

In following my passion for photography, I began working with the archivist specializing in photographs, Ms. Hogan. After completing my first few projects, Ms. Hogan removed four wooden cigar boxes from the seemingly endless rows of shelves and placed them on my desk. She explained they were left to the Archives from Fr. Ted’s office, and while I felt unworthy of the assignment, I could not wait to see what was inside.

Hastily written on top of these humble boxes beside a “Cuesta Rey International” seal read, “17 days around the world.” I immediately thought of my father and how envious he would be to hear about this assignment only a few weeks into the job. Carefully opening each box, Ms. Hogan and I found rolls and rolls of film labeled in chronological order of Fr. Hesbrugh’s journey.

Everything seemed to have a place, and you could see from the worn edges of the frames that Fr. Ted had clearly shared his experiences with friends and family. On the backs of each photograph, he wrote a caption of the scene often calling people by name or explaining the circumstances for each photograph. I imagine this meticulous practice was a pleasant and meditative process for Fr. Hesburgh when returning from such incredible adventures.

Overwhelmed yet excited, I vicariously relived this pilgrimage around the world with Fr. Ted. From Beijing to Moscow, I sorted through the photographs, realizing the direction of his lens gravitating not toward capturing tourist sites as we typically do today, but rather images illustrating culture, native people and often the poor. My favorite discoveries came from examining which negatives lacked photographs in the roll. Since these were often group shots, I imagine they have since been disseminated throughout the world to his numerous travel companions.

Through this seemingly trivial practice of organizing photographs, I recognized Fr. Hesburgh challenging the idea of practicing virtue at a distance. I hope one day to be able to do as he did – pursue an adventure not as a passive observer but as a student of culture and seeking to touch lives of individuals around the world.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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