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Dean Crawford on Hesburgh

| Sunday, March 1, 2015

In my seven years at Notre Dame, I have had the opportunity to get to know Fr. Hesburgh as a mentor, a fisherman, an inspiration and — what meant the most to him — a priest. In fact, the first time I met him, in his office atop the library while I was interviewing for the dean of the College of Science position, he offered to give me a blessing, which I eagerly accepted.

I remember being nervous as I waited to meet Fr. Hesburgh, whose global renown was apparent in the vivid reminders — honors, photos, and mementos — that filled his office. I was unprepared for the gentle, grandfatherly figure who entered, smoking a cigar that added to the room’s accumulated ambience. Within minutes, I felt comfortable in his presence. Of all the fields he could have addressed, he focused on science, with a characteristic generosity and concern for the listener instead of himself. I learned about his role in the start of the National Science Foundation, his Medal of Science from the National Academy, his work in energy and nuclear power and his extensive impact on science even as a nonscientist. He also told me about the hiring of scientist Morris Pollard, the first Jewish faculty member, as an expression of the universal reach he intended for the premier Catholic research institution. Needless to say, I was so inspired by Fr. Hesburgh and his vision of Notre Dame that, when offered the position as dean, I was honored to accept.

After I arrived on campus, I was lucky enough to get an invitation to go fishing with Fr. Hesburgh at Land O’Lakes, the University’s 7,500-acre Environmental Research Center. It was a day of fishing, smoking cigars and telling stories that ranged from how he convinced a United States President to get him a ride on a supersonic jet to how a Catholic priest is qualified to mentor people getting married — even as a celibate — Fr. Hesburgh explained, he knew it was a bad idea for a man to give his wife a toaster on their first anniversary. He was witty and humorous, caring and compassionate, serious and ever the teacher — wisely imparting lessons in every conversation. That fishing boat was the relaxed scene of an all-day seminar.

Land O’Lakes is a historic place primarily because of Fr. Hesburgh. It is the site of a pivotal meeting led by Fr. Hesburgh that resulted in a major statement —named for the place — that defined the role of a Catholic university in the modern world. Fr. Hesburgh also took the politically-divided Civil Rights Commission on a fishing trip to the site more than 50 years ago, and this is where he managed to help reach significant agreements that became the basis of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It was incredible for me to be at the same location, to sit at the same table and fish on the same lakes as those on the Civil Rights Commission. I could feel the presence of the past. I was so fortunate to fish on those lakes with him during several fall breaks.

Fr. Hesburgh was a great mentor to me, especially in the way he modeled virtuous leadership. The stories from the past — his stature in the Church, the nation and the academy — would have seemed unbelievable without watching his courage, his humility and his humor in ordinary settings. On one of our fishing trips, he said, “Greg, you do not need to call me Fr. Hesburgh, please call me Fr. Ted.” Like any undergraduate in the presence of a revered professor, I was never able to do it. He will always be Fr. Hesburgh to me.

Gregory Crawford
William K. Warren Foundation Dean
College of Science

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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