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Fr. Ted’s lesson in saying ‘yes’

| Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The first time I met Father Ted, it was by accident — I was in the right place at the right time. I was a freshman, nervously studying for my exams on the first floor of the library, when Fr. Ted’s incredible assistant came into the room. She asked if anyone would like to read to Father Hesburgh, because the person who would usually do so was not available that day.

I hesitated — a common theme in my college years and in my life. I was poised to say no, to let the opportunity slip by out of fear or need to focus on my studies. I waited, expecting someone else to snatch up the opportunity in my slowness to answer. As no one did, I timidly raised my hand and stammered, “I — I’d like to.” I followed the assistant, Melanie, into the elevator and up to his office. We casually chatted; she asked my name, what I studied and the like. When we arrived in Father Ted’s office, she brought him in and introduced me. “This is Molly, Father, and she’s going to read to you today.”

Reading the New York Times to Father Ted was an amazing opportunity for many reasons. I remember reading him headlines from which he would decide if we would read the full story (we almost always did). As I read him each story — from notes on oil digging to the situation in Iraq — he would stop me and give me his opinion. I sat in awe, listening to him casually spout off words of wisdom. To be honest, I don’t remember much of what he said. I was focused on making sure I read every word correctly and clearly, keeping his interest. I was trying not to think about how dry and scratchy my throat felt after an hour of reading through that cigar smoke.

What I will always remember from that hour has little to do with the actual readings. In fact, my clearest memory from that day was a story Father Ted told me just as I walked in — one that encapsulates who he is in my mind. He gestured to some beautiful flowers sitting on his coffee table and told me they were from a kind older couple. He explained that he had been in the Grotto a few weeks before, where he met up with this couple visiting campus. They had both been previously married, their spouses had passed away, and the two had found love together. Father Ted explained to me that he told them, “That’s really great — but it would be even greater if the two of you could live together. Would you like to be married?”

I imagine the couple was a bit taken aback by this, but they agreed — and he invited them to come back a week later, where he married the two of them in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. This story has stuck with me throughout the years as the picture of who Father Ted is — a no-nonsense, no-frills man who loved the church and its people. A man who was willing to say “yes” and who inspired that desire in others — a man who helped each of us take a leap in one way or another.

In some ways, I use that story to remind myself to take leaps of my own sometimes. I still have a tendency to say no to things or to stay in my comfort zone, but this couple and Father Ted’s story remind me of how important it is to say “yes” sometimes. After all, if I hadn’t said yes that afternoon in the library, I may not have ever met Father Ted, and I would have missed out on one of the most valuable experiences of my time as an undergraduate. Thank you, Father Ted, for reminding me to say yes.

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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