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Hesburgh joins ND community for film, talk

Bridget Keating | Friday, January 27, 2006

Lured by the promise of a discussion with University President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh at the screening of a movie about his life, students flocked to DeBartolo 101 Thursday night, filling the room nearly to capacity.

“The event is a tribute to this incredible person who is not only a part of Notre Dame history, but also a part of world history,” said Jimmy Flaherty, Student Union Board (SUB) Manager. SUB, in conjunction with Keough Hall, hosted the event.

“God, Country, Notre Dame – The Story of Father Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C.” is a one-hour documentary about the life of Hesburgh, who served the University as president for 35 years and has been the “trusted confidant of popes, presidents, and academic leaders around the world – and yet considered himself simply a priest,” said filmmakers Family Theatre Productions.

The film revealed aspects of Hesburgh’s life that students may not have encountered previously, including his family life and childhood call to the priesthood. Afterwards, audience members welcomed Hesburgh to the stage with a lengthy standing ovation. He proceeded to discuss various aspects of his life at Notre Dame.

“It is great to be here tonight with the greatest student body in the world,” Hesburgh said.

He fielded questions from the crowd and spoke at length about diversity issues and co-education, which he brought to Notre Dame in 1972. He revealed his secret for success – the short prayer, “Come, Holy Spirit” – and said that even at 88 years of age, there is much more he wants to accomplish and “miles to go before [he] sleep[s].”

Hesburgh’s talk and presence were so successful, according to SUB Concert Programmer Chris Lund, because of universal interest in the highly decorated former University president.

“Hesburgh is the essence of Notre Dame,” Lund said.

The film’s producers featured students and administrators while filming on campus, attempting to incorporate the Notre Dame identity that Hesburgh has helped create.

The filmmakers also featured famous narrators, including testimony of four former United States presidents, Secretary of State and 1975 Notre Dame alumna Condoleezza Rice, and actors Sean Astin, Clarence Gilyard and Regis Philbin.

Though the film educated students about many biographical details of Hesburgh’s life, his onstage presence in the following discussion made obvious his skill at connecting with an audience. Afterwards, senior Andy Burkavage reflected on the experience.

“Tonight made me aware of how extraordinary his life has been,” Burkavage said. “Students generally know what he has done for this school, but to see the level of his statesmanship and [its] international effect was highly impressive.”

The documentary included many details of Hesburgh’s close work with United States presidents and his huge role on the Civil Rights Commission, as well as stirring images such as one of Hesburgh hand-in-hand with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the film, Hesburgh downplays his monumental role in civil rights work and other national affairs. He chooses instead to emphasize his role as priest, telling of his personal pledge to celebrate mass every day. He cheerily describes the litany of places in which he has celebrated the liturgy – recounting tales of makeshift masses in such locales as Antarctica, a plane above the Amazon and a submarine in the Pacific Ocean.

Notre Dame’s transformation into a national university during Hesburgh’s 35-year tenure is a focal point of the film, which also focuses on Hesburgh’s close friendship with Father Edmund P. Joyce, executive vice-president during Hesburgh’s presidency. The audience remained keenly engaged by stories and photographs of the pair’s travels.

Curiosity attracted sophomore Camila Bernal to the event.

“I am thankful to be here and even more thankful that Father Hesburgh is here with us,” Bernal said.

Junior Randy Yang expressed his deep appreciation of this Notre Dame legend and described his special bond with the priest.

“During freshman year, I shared a one-on-one liturgy with him in his office in the nearly deserted library,” Yang said. “I was studying, and he asked me to join and assist him. It’s something I am forever proud of and will tell my children and grandchildren about.” Keough Hall president John Lindenmeyer described his hall’s support for the movie as a no-brainer.

“Father Hesburgh is a beacon for the University, and it is every student’s dream to meet him,” he said. “We were happy to provide this forum for students.”

Steve Tortorello, SUB Ideas and Issues Programmer, stressed that though Hesburgh’s legacy is inseparable from that of Notre Dame, the value of his presence as a speaker should not be underestimated.

“When people think about ‘big name speakers,’ they often overlook the fact that we are so fortunate to have one of the most important men of the 20th century right here at Notre Dame,” Tortorello said.