Fr. Hesburgh commemorated with U.S. ‘Forever’ stamp
Courtney Becker | Monday, September 4, 2017
After he stamped his place in the history books of both Notre Dame and the U.S. through years of service to the University and his country, the U.S. Postal Service honored University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh with a 49-cent Forever stamp bearing his image.
The Postal Service unveiled the stamp at a ceremony celebrating Hesburgh on Friday in the Purcell Pavilion with speakers including University President Fr. John Jenkins, Postmaster General of the U. S. Postal Service Megan Brennan and former Secretary of State and Notre Dame alumna Condoleezza Rice.
Hesburgh, the longest-tenured University president with 35 years in the position, served four popes and nine American presidents, was the first priest to be appointed a United States ambassador and was awarded the Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal, according to a video remembering Hesburgh’s legacy that was shown during the ceremony.
“It’s a privilege to celebrate and commemorate the life of Fr. Hesburgh,” Brennan said. “To an organization like the Postal Service, which is dedicated to public service, Fr. Hesburgh epitomizes the ideal of service to others, to community and country. … Today we are honoring a man who believed strongly and acted courageously and righteously for worthy causes, for equality, civil rights, compassion, virtues and community.”
Former men’s basketball coach Digger Phelps, the emcee of the event — who served as a member of the citizen’s stamp advisory committee for 22 years — said Hesburgh was emblematic of the words displayed above the entrance to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart: God, Country, Notre Dame.
“When we see that ‘God, country, Notre Dame’ — he lived it,” Phelps said. “God, yes — he was a priest his whole life. Country — and what he did with that civil rights act. Back then it was for African-Americans, but as we talk years later, it was for all cultures, all colors of skin and all religions coming into this country. And finally, you talk about ‘God, country, Notre Dame?’ He was president for 35 years, and what you see today was his vision to reality.”
Of these three pillars, Jenkins said Hesburgh always identified most strongly with the first.
“Fr. Ted often said the defining moment of his life, his most important calling, was his ordination as a priest,” he said. “He celebrated Mass every day, he loved the church [and] he preached the gospel, but he never saw his priesthood as devoted exclusively to those who were Roman Catholic.”
Hesburgh thought of his mission as a priest as uniting people around the world, Jenkins said.
“He would often point out that the ancient Latin word for priest is ‘pontifex’ — bridge builder,” Jenkins said. “As a priest, Fr. Ted devoted his life to building bridges. Bridges between people who were estranged, bridges between men and women and God, bridges between nations [and] bridges between faiths.”
This mission, Brennan said, led Hesburgh to serve as a leader on a global scale.
“Fr. Hesburgh was a leader on a broad stage,” she said. “He served the global community. He fought to advance humanitarian causes, to include the people who found themselves most marginalized. He worked to open the arms of civil society to the people who needed it most.”
Hesburgh’s selection as the subject of a stamp is not only the University’s proudest connection with the Postal Service, Jenkins said, but also something Hesburgh would be proud of.
“Notre Dame has a long, proud history with the postal service, but we were never prouder than we are today,” he said. “Thousands — if not tens of thousands — of worthy candidates are submitted each year to the postal service to be considered for the honor accorded Fr. Hesburgh. … Fr. Ted was proud of this nation. He loved it, and he spent endless hours in service to it, to make it a better place. He would be so tremendously proud that the United States has given him the tremendous honor of recognizing him on this stamp.”
Hesburgh’s years of impactful service and his lasting legacy regarding female education made him the best candidate for a stamp, Brennan, the first female to hold her position, said.
“Popes and presidents called on Fr. Hesburgh to be their voice and to provide leadership on the tough issues facing peoples and governments,” she said. “ … We also honor him because his legacy of service to humanity is still felt today in so many ways. Fr. Hesburgh was a leading national voice for equality in education, and because he led Notre Dame’s transition to coeducation, many other universities and colleges followed suit. Those opportunities for millions of women weren’t as available just a generation prior. It’s hard to believe today that this had to be fought for, but it did.”
Of all Hesburgh’s accomplishments as President of the University, Phelps said, integrating women into the Notre Dame community was the one of which he was proudest.
“ … One time when I was with him, and I said to him, ‘What is your greatest accomplishment while you were here as president for 35 years?’ he said, ‘When we went coed,” Phelps said.
One of the beneficiaries of Hesburgh’s work to integrate Notre Dame was 66th Secretary of State of the United States Condoleezza Rice, who graduated from the University’s graduate program in 1975. Rice said Hesburgh was a “transformational figure” in the world and at Notre Dame.
“ … Fr. Ted transformed students’ lives because he cared so much for them,” she said. “When you’d walk across this campus and there was a light in the administration building at the top of the Golden Dome, people would say, ‘Fr. Ted’s working late tonight.’ That’s how the students thought of him. And it wasn’t just the generation of students that knew him. When I was here for his memorial service, more than a year ago, I was told of the students that lined the way for his funeral bier — students who had never known him, but to them, too, he was Fr. Ted.”
Perhaps more than Hesburgh’s ability to be transformational, Rice said, is his transcendence.
“And today it is not just his transformational character that we celebrate,” Rice said. “We celebrate his transcendence. For more than a century and a half, the U.S. postal service has honored Americans who are transcendent,” she said. “Americans who transcended the places they were born, the titles that they held, the work that they did, transcended the time in which they lived to be a part of a timeless transmission of the values that we so admire. Values of faith, and justice, and belief in equality and not just the ability to tolerate those who are different, but to really admire and embrace them. That transcendence is also a part of Fr. Hesburgh’s heritage because it is who we was. When you looked at him you knew that this was a very special man.”
People will be able to notice this quality when they look at the new stamp, Brennan said.
“You’ll see a likeness that exudes the warmth and openness Fr. Hesburgh was known for,” Brennan said. “The smile is subtle and the eyes are fixed ahead, capturing his benevolence and his determination. You’ll notice the words on the stamp — it reads, ‘Fr. Ted Hesburgh.’ This isn’t his formal given name. It’s the name he preferred. It’s the one given to him by the community he served. You’ll also notice the words ‘Forever’ and ‘USA.’ That’s our way of saying Fr. Hesburgh represents the very best of America, and will do so always.”
Jenkins said everyone should try to emulate this ideal representation of America in the midst of a divisive political climate.
“We face many challenges to day in our nation,” he said. “There are deep divisions. There unfortunately are dark forces at work — racists, anti-semitic and hateful chants, violent clashes. I think if there’s one thing Fr. Ted would say to us today it would be this: ‘Let us all be bridge builders. Let us work for justice, let us yearn for true peace.’ And as we consider his image on this stamp, let it call each of us to that.”
Hesburgh’s visions for Notre Dame and the world, Rice said, will be immortalized not only by this stamp, but also by the people he affected.
“ … Fr. Ted is someone who didn’t just see the world as it is. He saw the world as it should be,” she said. “And that transcendent message will live on in this stamp as it lives on in the lives of those that he transformed in this wonderful, wonderful community of Notre Dame.”