Hesburgh honored as Navy chaplain at 96
Ann Marie Jakubowski | Sunday, March 1, 2015
If young Fr. Hesburgh had his way, he would have boarded an aircraft carrier in the Pacific to serve as a naval chaplain during World War II upon his return to the United States from Gregorian University in Rome.
But his superiors in the Congregation of Holy Cross had other plans, and he was instead told to finish his doctoral studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
“With the war on the whole time I was at Catholic University, I was really itching to get out of Washington and into the military service,” Hesburgh wrote in his autobiography. “But Father Tom Steiner, my provincial superior at Notre Dame was adamant. ‘Get your doctorate now, or you will never get it,’ he told me. ‘Then we’ll talk about your becoming a Navy chaplain.’”
He worked overtime to finish the doctorate in just two years, and in the summer of 1945, he wrote to Fr. Steiner again to remind him of their discussion about the chaplainship.
“It was as good as done,” Hesburgh wrote about his plans for the chaplainship that summer.
But when the response letter came from Fr. Steiner, it was not what he expected.
“I was to … report for duty at Notre Dame on July 5, my orders said,” he wrote. “Father Steiner wrote that the Navy was sending thousands of officer candidates to Notre Dame for training, and Notre Dame was in desperate need of faculty. That sank my hopes for a carrier in the Pacific.
“Little did I know that a month or so later the war in the Pacific would end and I would become chaplain for all the returning veterans at Notre Dame. It was as if the Lord were saying to me, ‘Your planning is terrible. Leave it up to Me.’”
Seventy one years later, weeks away from his 96th birthday, Hesburgh’s dream came true when Rear Admiral Mark Tidd, then-chief of chaplains for the United States Navy, came to campus to designate Hesburgh honorary naval chaplain in a special ceremony held April 17, 2013, in the Carey Auditorium of the library.
When he awarded Hesburgh that day, Tidd said he could think of no one who better exemplified the navy chaplain motto “vocati ad servitium.”
“The Latin words on the naval chaplain corps seal are translated ‘called to serve,’” Tidd said at the ceremony. “In my mind, there is no one more deserving to be named an honorary naval chaplain than someone who has answered the call to serve our nation, the call to serve the world and the call to serve God.
“Fr. Hesburgh, I am humbled to be able to declare: you are an honorary navy chaplain.”
At the ceremony, Hesburgh said he would “continue to serve our navy and country in every way possible.”
“I can’t tell you how much I am touched to be honored by my Navy brothers,” he said. “Notre Dame is better because we’ve had the Navy here as long as we’ve had ROTC.
“I can feel even closer to our naval ROTC students now that I am an officer in the navy. … Anchors aweigh.”
Captain Earl Carter, former Commanding Officer for the naval ROTC, said in 2013 that the ceremony was meant to honor “this selfless leader who has done so much for so many.”
“I thought it was a faithful tribute to a very, very deserving leader,” Carter said about the ceremony. “I’m honored we were able to do the presentation in front of our battalion of midshipmen, since Fr. Hesburgh’s selfless service to the nation provides them with such a shining example as they look forward to their naval careers.”
Editor’s note: This report draws on reporting by former News Writer Christian Myers, class of 2013.