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Public figures remember Fr. Hesburgh

| Saturday, February 28, 2015

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

“Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Father Ted Hesburgh.  During his lifetime of service to his country, his church, and his beloved University of Notre Dame, Father Hesburgh inspired generations of young men and women to lead with the courage of their convictions.  His deep and abiding faith in a loving God, and in the power of our shared humanity, led him to join the first-ever United States Civil Rights Commission, and join hands with Dr. King to sing ‘We Shall Overcome.’  His belief that what unites us is greater than what divides us made him a champion of academic freedom and open debate.

“When I delivered the commencement address at Notre Dame in 2009, I was honored to thank Father Hesburgh for his contributions to our country and our world.  Father Hesburgh often spoke of his beloved university as both a lighthouse and a crossroads – the lighthouse standing apart, shining with the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, and the crossroads joining the differences of culture, religion and conviction with friendship, civility, and love. The same can be said of the man generations of students knew simply as ‘Father Ted.’  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his friends, and the Notre Dame community that loved him so dearly.”

Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States

“Hillary and I mourn the passing and celebrate the remarkable life of Father Hesburgh. His brilliant stewardship of Notre Dame produced generations of leaders and scholars whose hearts and minds were shaped by his example. Hillary and I were proud to call him friend and counselor, and I was honored to present his Congressional Gold Medal. We will always remember his great sense of humor and his dauntless faith, his staunch advocacy for civil rights and a peaceful planet, and his lifelong commitment to public service. His entire life was a constant reminder of our common humanity. Our prayers are with his family, the Notre Dame family, and his legion of friends throughout the world.”

Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State
MA, Class of 1975

“This is a day of both personal sadness and celebration of a singular life. I will sorely miss Father Ted, my friend and mentor of 40 years. His commitment to education and social justice was infectious and I am grateful for having experienced his common touch, his sense of humor, his love of learning and his passion for Notre Dame.

“When my father died, Father Hesburgh wrote to me that my dad was now ‘resting in the loving hands of our savior, bathed in the light of eternal life.’ Now too, does our beloved friend.

“Rest well, Father Ted. You showed us what it meant to be a faithful servant and made our country and the world a better place. Your memory and spirit will live on at Notre Dame and in each of us who had the honor to know and love you.”

John Boehner, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives

“Father Ted was truly a man of God and the people.  As the Kipling poem goes, he could walk with kings and not lose the common touch.  Through his service, he showed us all the possibilities of the heart, and of complete  devotion to God.  For his many contributions, he became the first leader in higher education to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.  Now he receives the reward of eternal rest.  I extend the condolences of the whole House to the Hesburgh family, the Congregation of Holy Cross, and the University of Notre Dame.  The passing of this fine priest is a loss for us all.”

Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives

“Father Theodore Martin Hesburgh dedicated his life to justice and peace.  Each and every day, President Hesburgh fulfilled the calling of St. Francis to ‘preach the gospel, and sometimes use words’ by living his faith through his incredible service.  As a dedicated member of the clergy, outstanding educator, caring humanitarian and civil rights champion, he leaves behind a towering legacy of leadership – inspiring all of us to keep fighting for a world that honors the spark of divinity that rests in everyone.

“Father Hesburgh never abandoned the spirit of volunteerism that led him to serve as a Navy Chaplain during the Second World War – and that earned him the position of Honorary Navy Chaplain towards the end of his life.  World War II forced Father Hesburgh to abandon his studies in Italy, but he never abandoned his call to minister to people suffering from war and injustice.  He marched arm in arm with Rev. Martin L. King, Jr. in support of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act.  He led the Civil Rights Commission and advocated for the Affordable Care Act to improve the lives of America’s families.  His legendary tenure at the University of Notre Dame, from his start as a chaplain for married veterans to his 35 years as University President, was an extension of the ministry he cherished: empowering generations of young men and women to create purposeful lives.

“On the streets, in classrooms, and in boardrooms, Father Ted was courageous enough to speak out against injustice, compassionate enough to bring healing to the downtrodden, and creative enough to propose ideas that improved the lives of all people.  May it be a comfort to all who loved Rev. Hesburgh, that so many share in their grief during this sad time.”

Jackie Walorski, U.S. Representative, Indiana’s 2nd District

“The news of Father Hesburgh’s passing is a profound loss not only for our community, but also for the entire country. Today we mourn a great man, a beloved priest, and one of the most influential leaders in higher education.  I send my heartfelt condolences to his family and the entire Notre Dame community.”

Lou Anna Simon, President of Michigan State University

“The passing of Ted Hesburgh has touched us all very deeply. We here at Michigan State University are especially saddened by his death. The University of Notre Dame and Michigan State University have been and always will be inextricably connected in so many ways.

“Nowhere else is this connection more alive than in the relationship that existed between Father Hesburgh and former MSU President John Hannah. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say both men are 20th-century legends. One turned a great Catholic university into a Catholic great university. The other turned a great land-grant university into a land-grant great university.

“But beyond their extraordinary contributions to higher education and the pursuit of knowledge, both men established themselves as leaders in the fight for civil rights and the dignity of all human beings. Dr. Hannah chaired the first Civil Rights Commission, established in 1954 by President Dwight Eisenhower. Father Hesburgh was a member of that group.

“The commission made recommendations to eliminate discrimination in areas such as education, voting and housing. The commission overcame its political differences and presented to President Johnson the framework for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“It’s also important to note that Father Hesburgh was president of Notre Dame in 1972, the year the university became a co-educational institution, allowing women the same opportunity as men to pursue a better life through higher education.

“We were honored to have Father Hesburgh visit Michigan State many times. Few will forget his commencement address to graduating Spartans. It was during the unrest of the 1960s when he shocked parents by telling them their kids needed two things from them: “Give them love and laughter.”

“Early on when I was provost at MSU, I had dinner with Father Hesburgh. We talked about a wide range of issues, including social justice. It was absolutely extraordinary to hear his reflections on the connections and partnerships with MSU that were value-centric.

“He embodied a unique combination of reflection, strength and action. It’s hard to imagine the number of lives positively impacted by his work over the years.”


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