‘A great and holy priest’
Lesley Stevenson | Wednesday, March 4, 2015
“Come, Holy Spirit.”
When University President Emeritus Fr. Edward “Monk” Malloy stood before a capacity crowd at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Tuesday night, he invoked God’s guidance in illuminating the complex, dynamic life of University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh.
Facing a congregation of Hesburgh’s family and friends and flanked by dorm presidents, class council executives and student body leadership, Malloy recalled the circumstances of his last meeting with Hesburgh.
“A couple weeks ago, Fr. Charlie Kohlerman, the superior of Holy Cross [House], our healthcare and retirement facility where Fr. Ted lived for a number of years, called me and a number of other of Ted’s close friends and said, ‘The end is near. If you want to have a last, final conversation with Ted, you’d better do it quickly,’” Malloy said.
Malloy eventually found Hesburgh outside in the cold, smoking an unlit cigar.
“I said, ‘Ted, what have you been thinking about?’” Malloy said. “He said, ‘Eternity.’
“He said, ‘The phrase that keeps coming into my mind: No eye has seen nor ear heard what God has in store for those who love Him.’
“I was blown away, of course. And I recognized at that point that he knew that he was going to die soon and that he was full of utter gratefulness for his life and all of the gifts that he had enjoyed along the way.”
Malloy and Hesburgh fondly remembered the people who had helped and otherwise impacted Hesburgh throughout his life, starting with Ned Joyce, the former University executive vice president Hesburgh described as “his best friend in his whole life,” Malloy said.
“You couldn’t have found two people that personality-wise were more different. Their politics, their ecclesiology — all different. But Ted was proud when he said, ‘We never had a fight.’ I think that was influenced by the fact that Ted had the last word.”
Malloy said Hesburgh recalled Helen Hosinski, his secretary and assistant for 47 years, who in 2004 earned a place among only 24 other individuals on Notre Dame’s Wall of Honor in the Main Building.
“Ted used to say, ‘We’re just figureheads. It’s the women of Notre Dame like Helen who really run the place,’” Malloy said. “That, of course, is very true.”
Malloy recalled the early beginnings of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, a program made possible only through Joan Kroc, the inheritor to the McDonald’s fast food fortune, after Hesburgh presented “his dream of a peace institute” at a conference in San Diego.
“After it was over, a woman came up he had never met before and she said, ‘How much would it cost?’” Malloy said. “… We came back [to Notre Dame] … He said, ‘It’s going to take six or seven million dollars. We’ll be happy to come out and meet with you.’ She said, ‘That won’t be necessary. I’ll send it to you in the overnight mail.’ He went, ‘What?’”
Hesburgh and Malloy talked about Hesburgh’s fondness for Notre Dame’s Land O’Lakes environmental research center in Wisconsin, where he often went after the academic year to fish, read and enjoy nature.
“When I was having my last meeting with him, I said, ‘Did you ever hear the rumor that when you were out fishing, when you couldn’t see anymore, that somebody in a wetsuit would go down below the boat and hook the fish on the line?’” Malloy said. “He said, ‘No, that couldn’t possibly be true.’”
Malloy recounted Hesburgh’s appointments to the Civil Rights Commission as a member and later as its president. Though inexperienced in civil rights and policy issues, Hesburgh did not shy away from the chance to fight “this great scourge on American life.”
“He went from somebody without much experience in this important issue in our common life to someone who was responsible, in a sense, for the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Malloy said. “Hard to explain it, but many times he played a providential kind of role in the events of our time.”
Hesburgh was a “daredevil,” Malloy said while laughing about Hesburgh’s drive to experience every place he went to the fullest. Through all his travels, Hesburgh remained devoted to celebrating Mass every day and frequently invited non-Catholics and atheists alike to join him.
“He celebrated Mass in a submarine between California and Hawaii and on aircraft carriers. He went to the Antarctic, and then he flew in a supersonic transport,” Malloy said. “… But his great dream in life was to be the first priest to celebrate Mass in outer space as an astronaut. He and Walter Cronkite were lined up, but then the tragedy of the Challenger disaster happened, and he was never able to fulfill that dream.
“One time on one of his birthdays we celebrated Mass right along the Sea of Galilee in a motel in a room with a Christian-Arab driver,” he said. “And all I could think of, here was Ted, right next to where Jesus would have been doing the same thing in his ministry.”
Hesburgh was the first priest to say the Mass at Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and he always sought new opportunities to explore and inform himself about the world, Malloy said.
“Ted was in 100 countries, I think,” Malloy said. “One time, I was able to go to Tibet, and he said, ‘I’m so envious of you. I’ve only been to Nepal and Afghanistan and China and India and — but I’ve never been to Tibet.’ I said, ‘Too bad, Ted.’”
Malloy said he used to eat lunch with Hesburgh and other former University administrators, and their conversations often reflected their “great admiration and regard for [University President] Fr. John Jenkins.”
“How happy we were that someone of such great talent and enthusiasm and holiness was serving in succession to us,” Malloy said. “For me, one of the iconic moments in my time at Notre Dame was when the two of us put our hands on John’s shoulders at his inauguration and said a prayer of blessing. What a privilege that was, as we passed the mantle on.”
Malloy closed his reflection with a blessing for Hesburgh.
“When I left him on that last meeting, I asked him to bless me, which he did graciously,” Malloy said. “Now I want to say on behalf of all of us, Fr. Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C., you have been a great and holy priest. You have been our pastor here at Notre Dame, as you have for the country and the world. Now, go to God, and may you rest in peace.”
Junior folk choir member Laura Camarata, who sang at the service, said Malloy’s remarks enlightened her understanding of the former University president.
“For a lot of us students who didn’t know him personally, it was really beautiful to get to know him through the reflection and get to know some of his idiosyncrasies and his pleasures and his favorite places,” she said.
University Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves said the wake service served as “a wonderful way to send [Hesburgh] off.”
“It was a beautiful service, and Monk did such a wonderful job of touching every aspect of Fr. Ted’s life and I think, bringing him back to life for all of us,” Affleck-Graves said.
Lewis Hall president, junior Katie Ferrara, said her experience sitting behind the altar was “humbling.”
“We were invited to represent the dorm communities,” she said. “I know that Fr. Hesburgh really encouraged the family aspect of the University and to be here feeling incredibly unworthy to be here — someone told us yesterday, ‘It’s not you, it’s your position,’ — being able to represent the dorm family for someone who — the Notre Dame family meant so much to him, was quite the blessing.”
In the LaFortune Student Center, one of many campus hubs where the wake service was streamed live, viewers crossed themselves whenever the priests made the sign of the cross, participating through the TV screen with Malloy and the congregation.
Student body vice president senior Matthew Devine said despite the campus-wide sadness following Hesburgh’s death, the community has an opportunity to celebrate Hesburgh’s life and legacy. Malloy’s speech “struck the perfect tone,” he said.
“We’re very glad to see his life remembered in this way, to bring together so many people over his life who were so meaningful to him and to celebrate his life,” Devine said. “We hope that our lives can be a testament to his, to the life that he led. We’re just very grateful to have been a part of this and to be with his friends and family in this important time.”
“Beautiful” became the defining word of the evening service, as student body president senior Lauren Vidal, student body president-elect junior Bryan Ricketts and junior class vice president Michael Fliotsos also described the wake as such.
“As students here, we’re all honored, and we look forward to continuing remembering him throughout the days to come,” Vidal said.
News Writer Clare Kossler contributed to this report.