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Stephen Feldhaus on Fr. Hesburgh

| Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fr. Hesburgh and I met only three or four times that I can recall during my four years at Notre Dame, and yet his being and presence were central to the outstanding education that I received there.

Shortly after my arrival in 1963, President Kennedy would be assassinated, and the civil rights effort would begin in earnest. Fr. Hesburgh led us through the torments of Kennedy’s death and inspired us all with his leadership in civil rights. As I watched so many of my classmates head down south during the summers of 1964 and 1965, following Fr. Hesburgh’s call to arms, I felt enormously proud of my institution and deeply regretted that my need to earn money each summer kept me from participating.

Fr. Hesburgh summoned me for a meeting upon my being named the Editor-in-Chief of the campus newspaper, The Voice. As a callow youth undertaking an enormous responsibility, I remember little of what he said to me, but recall distinctly the sense of calm assurance and gentle guidance that I carried away from the meeting.

Our next encounter was a bit less fortuitous, as I had allowed the Voice to include a four letter word in an article reprinted from the Berkeley Barb, the then famous, or infamous, depending upon your point of view, student newspaper at the University of California at Berkeley. Fr. Hesburgh did not feel that there was a place for such journalism at Notre Dame and told me so in no uncertain terms. But even with the absolute power that he could wield, he was a stickler for procedure, and so he convened an ad hoc group of priests and professors (there may have even been a student or two) to decide how the University should deal with the situation. In the end a solution was found that enabled me to stay in school, and to retain my position at the newspaper.

My final encounter with Fr. Hesburgh came during a drive to install an Honor Code at Notre Dame. Jack Balinsky and I led the student effort, which had been, if I recall correctly, the brain child of Fr. Hesburgh and the Administration. The adoption of the Honor Code was just one of the ever so many advances that Fr. Hesburgh brought to Notre Dame. Again, I don’t recall his words, but I do recall coming away from the meeting with a deepened sense of his drive and commitment to the continuing improvement of the University.

It is an honor to have had these brief encounters with such a great man, but it is even a greater honor to have had the privilege to have received an education, in every sense of that word, at the wonderful institution that he led for so long, and built to such eminence.

Stephen M. Feldhaus

Editor-in-Chief, The Voice,

Founder and Co-Editor-in-Chief, The Observer

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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