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Students gather at Grotto to remember Fr. Hesburgh

| Friday, February 27, 2015

Well after midnight in below-freezing cold, students stood in still silence around a glowing “TED” spelled out in candles at the Grotto to mourn the loss of Fr. Theodore “Ted” Hesburgh.

Hesburgh died at 11:30 p.m. Thursday at the age of 97.

“The Grotto is the only place to go at a time like right now,” senior Greg Denis said.

More than 100 students gathered at the Grotto, standing, kneeling and huddled in groups praying. Every candle available was lit. The memory of Hesburgh provided warmth to the student body, freshman Emily Casey said.

“It’s a testament to the Notre Dame community that there are so many people here at two in the morning on a Thursday night,” Casey said. “It doesn’t matter the weather or time of night, if something happens, the Notre Dame community is going to pull together and deal with this as a community.

“I thought it was beautiful to see so many people out here for him. We were expecting some people but not as many.”

Candles illuminate The Grotto in memory of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, who died Thursday at 97.Michael Yu | The Observer
Candles illuminate The Grotto in memory of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, who died Thursday at 97.

Students standing arm-in-arm quietly and somberly broke into singing the Alma Mater.

“When we came, people were starting to sing the Alma Mater, so we were able to join in,” freshman Therese McCarry said. “I think that was very special because everyone was coming together. People kept coming, lighting candles, saying prayers.”

People reacted differently to the news of Hesburgh’s death, but all sought the comfort of the Notre Dame community at the Grotto, Brennah Toomey said.

“It was a quieting of my mind,” Toomey said. “I felt at peace. Just seeing the word ‘TED’ written out in the candles was just beautiful.”

Sophomore James Burke said he felt it was necessary to drop what he was doing to head to the Grotto.

“I was studying at the time, and I heard that people were coming down to the Grotto,” Burke said. “I wanted to pay my respects and be part of that.”

It was the most important thing to do at the time, sophomore Ben Evans said.

“It’s a sign of respect for a guy who did so much for our community and University,” Evans said.

A number of people were in tears and sought hugs from fellow students upon hearing the news, freshman McKenzie Brummond said.

“I broke into tears when I found out,” Brummond said. “It kind of hit me like a train.”

“I can already feel that the Notre Dame community is different without Fr. Hesburgh here. This will have such an impact on everyone who is even connected to the University.”

McCarry said she felt sadness as well, knowing that a great man had died.

“I wish I could have met him — very important person,” McCarry said. “I think I’m very aware of how this will affect everyone in the Notre Dame community. Not just students, but alums, teachers, everyone.”

Sophomore Nick Lindstrom said he went to the Grotto to commemorate Hesburgh’s life and legacy.

“Well, it’s tough because it’s not a sad thing,” Lindstrom said. “He lived such an amazing life and such a long life, I just wanted to come down and celebrate that.”

Lindstrom said he met Hesburgh briefly during his first year at Notre Dame.

“It was fall semester when I was still trying to figure out what I was doing here,” Lindstrom said. “I was walking up to the library, and I looked outside, and I said, ‘Hey, he looks familiar,’ and sure enough it was Father Hesburgh. So I walked up, and I was like, ‘I have to hold the door for this man.’ So I held the door for him, and he turned to me and said, ‘Thank you son.’ That was the only interaction I had and will only have with him, but that was enough for me.”

It was fitting for the Notre Dame community to be at the Grotto remembering Hesburgh, Brummond said, because it was a gesture Hesburgh would have wanted to see.

“It’s really inspiring to see everyone here because Fr. Hesburgh played such an instrumental role in building this community,” Brummond said. “So it’s amazing to see how loved he is by the community he really contributed to.”

Some in the Notre Dame community knew Hesburgh’s health was wavering, so his death was not a complete surprise, Brummond said.

“I’m in Fr. Malloy’s seminar, and he touched on Fr. Hesburgh’s state of health recently,” Brummond said. “I kind of knew it would be coming, but it came a little bit sooner than I expected.”

Casey said she “knew Father Hesburgh’s death was coming,” but the loss still caught her off guard.

“I don’t think you can ever prepare for anyone to go,” Casey said. “Especially someone who is so iconic. He is Notre Dame. You don’t imagine Notre Dame without him.”

Female students particularly expressed their gratitude to Hesburgh, McCarry said, because female students were admitted during his tenure as University president in 1972.

“When we were walking to the Grotto, I said, ‘We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Fr. Hesburgh. We’re here because of him,’” McCarry said. “I love Notre Dame, I love being here, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else, so I’m just really thankful because if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have this experience.”

Casey echoed this sentiment.

“Especially as a girl here at Notre Dame, I’m really appreciative of everything Fr. Hesburgh has done,” Casey said.

Some were sorrowful at not being able to thank him for this historic change to the University, Brummond said.

“[Women] really owe a lot to him,” Brummond said. “I just really wish I would have had the chance to thank him for the opportunity to even be here.”

Fourth-year architecture student Caitlyn O’Malley said she felt remorse that she never got to meet Hesburgh.

“I missed my one opportunity, and I’m never going to stop regretting it,” O’Malley said.  “He’s the reason I’m here.”

Sophomore Nathan Luong said Hesburgh has had a role in all students’ lives at Notre Dame, whether they knew it or not.

“He had a big impact here and for all of us students here, he affected our lives in one way or the other,” Luong said.

Hesburgh was the most important person to Notre Dame’s community, O’Malley said.

“He represents everything this University stands for,” O’Malley said. “He’s just one of those men. You don’t get many opportunities in your life to meet people like that. He’s just one of those people that stands out. We’re always going to remember the impact he had.”

Freshman Patrick Keough said Hesburgh was more than just a man for Notre Dame.

“He’s a symbol of the University,” Keough said. “He has led this University for many, many years and done amazing, terrific things for it.”

Despite never meeting him, McCarry said Hesburgh’s fame and accomplishments will continue to be pervasive.

“Very few people can have that kind of effect on others,” McCarry said. “He is a very special and important person.”

Hesburgh was truly one of a kind, Denis said.

“He’s a special man,” Denis said. “Not many people will ever come like that. He’s going to be missed on this campus and around the world.”

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