Rise to the Presidency
“In times of great change, leadership is where you find it. This is especially true of moral and spiritual leadership.”
—Father Hesburgh, in The Hesburgh Papers*
Shortly after earning his degree as a Doctor of Sacred Theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1945, Father Hesburgh returned to the University of Notre Dame to serve as chaplain to the WWII veterans and teach religion.
Father Hesburgh found that the class he was assigned to teach on moral theology lacked a syllabus, and he did not feel the text was useful for college students, so he redesigned the course. The new head of the religion department, Rev. Roland Simonitsch, C.S.C., recognized the issues with the curriculum and asked Father Hesburgh and Rev. Charles Sheedy, C.S.C., to create new syllabi for some of the religion courses. Their notes on the courses evolved into textbooks that each sold more than 100,000 copies.
With the end of WWII came an influx of student veterans, and Father Hesburgh created the Notre Dame Veterans Club to help them adjust to life at Notre Dame. He served as the club's chaplain. By the time the majority of the student body were veterans, the club closed, and Father Hesburgh focused his efforts on helping the married veterans. He helped the couples find affordable off-campus apartments and arranged for new on-campus housing in the form of surplus Army barracks, which students could rent at low cost. The site was called Vetville. Through his involvement with the married veterans, Father Hesburgh found himself acting more and more as a marriage counselor, which led him to create and begin teaching a marriage course at Notre Dame.
From 1945 to 1948, while he served as the chaplain of Vetville, Father Hesburgh lived in Badin Hall, which at the time was the dorm for unmarried veterans whose education was being paid for by the GI Bill. Upon being named chairman of the religion department in 1948, he became rector of Farley Hall.
The following year, at the age of 32, Father Hesburgh was appointed executive vice president of the University under Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C. His responsibilities included writing an administrative procedure and a job description for all of the other vice presidents; reorganizing the departments of athletics, academics, student affairs, finance, and public relations; and overseeing the construction of five new buildings, as well as myriad other assignments giving him experience in many areas of administration.
At the age of 35, after serving as executive vice president for three years, Father Hesburgh was appointed President of the University of Notre Dame in 1952.
For more information on Father Hesburgh's rise to the presidency of Notre Dame, see the following resources:
*Hesburgh, Theodore M. The Hesburgh Papers: Higher Values in Higher Education. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1979. Print. Hesburgh, Theodore Martin, and Jerry Reedy. "Leading." God, Country, Notre Dame. New York: Doubleday, 1990. Print. Hesburgh, Theodore Martin, and Jerry Reedy. "Teaching." God, Country, Notre Dame. New York: Doubleday, 1990. Print. O'Brien, Michael. "From Teacher to President, 1945–1958." Hesburgh: a Biography. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1998. Print.