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Roger Parent on Fr. Hesburgh

| Saturday, February 28, 2015

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, was an extraordinary man and an extraordinary priest. His parish was the whole world. He was a theologian and a man of ideas, but his actions best describe his life. I like it that former President Richard Nixon replaced Fr. Ted in his role as chairman of the Civil Rights Commission. That tells me a lot about his courage and adherence to his principles under pressure. I see this, more than any of his many awards, as a badge of honor.

More personal to me, as one of the first Peace Corps volunteers, was Fr. Ted’s early and strong influence on the Peace Corps. Informally, he’s known as one of the founders of the Peace Corps. It was one of his great loves. I suspect that if the Peace Corps had existed when he was a young man, he might have volunteered before becoming a priest.

Fr. Ted was an adviser to Sargent Shriver, the first Peace Corps Director, and Notre Dame had one of the very first training programs for Peace Corps volunteers in 1961. Fr. Ted told me that had it not been for the Catholic issue of the day, Notre Dame would have been the first with a group of volunteers in Chile.

Fr. Ted’s actions and influence were not only on big important issues. He took a deep interest in each person he met and knew. When Fr. Ted met my children on campus, he asked about their studies and their plans after graduation. He did this from his first years as a Holy Cross priest to his very last. Days before his death, he was still blessing students and other visitors to his office on the 13th floor of the library named in his honor.

Fr. Ted’s death saddens me, but that sadness is tempered by the hope that his generous spirit will live on in the lives of all the people he influenced. As an example of his personal impact on thousands of persons, I cite how he influenced mine. When I returned from Peace Corps service in Thailand and came to Notre Dame for graduate work, he helped with a “Returned Peace Corps Volunteer” Scholarship; when I was thinking of running for South Bend mayor, he encouraged me; and after serving two terms as mayor, he suggested I direct the Peace Corps in Haiti, which I did.

Many people will say that Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC was a great man. But saying that is not enough. There are many ‘great’ persons in this world, but few of those ‘great’ persons will leave the world a better place.

Fr. Ted’s legacy is one of ideas and actions to end war, to help those most discriminated against, to help the most destitute, and to provide a quality education to all. That’s what makes Fr. Ted a great person and a great priest.

Roger Parent

1966 M.A.

Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Thailand I

Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, 1980-1988

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