Father Hesburgh Today

On April 15, 2011, Father Hesburgh joined more than 500 people at the Joyce Center to pay tribute to Chuck Lennon as he prepares to retire as executive director of the Alumni Association this summer.

Father Hesburgh, who has been close to the Lennon family for decades, gave a talk in which he expressed his admiration and affection for Lennon and his wife, Joan. He praised Lennon for his leadership of the Alumni Association, his many contributions to the University, and also complimented the couple for “leading the procession” of Notre Dame’s unparalleled alumni family.

Father Hesburgh was one of three Notre Dame presidents to speak, being followed during the evening by Fathers Monk Malloy and John Jenkins, along with many others expressing gratitude and good wishes to the Lennons. 


On March 27, 2011, Father Hesburgh received a specially commissioned Centennial Medal from Catholic Charities USA, the 100-year-old social services organization working to reduce poverty in America.

The medal was one of 100 presented throughout 2010 to recipients who had helped reduce poverty in the United States or had demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the organization’s vision and mission.

In presenting the award the president and CEO of Catholic Charities, Rev. Larry Snyder, said, “Father Hesburgh’s life has been one of devotion to education and service to his church — exemplified by his unparalleled 35 years as president of Notre Dame. Also, his dedication to our nation is largely without equal, serving on 16 presidential commissions, including the Civil Rights Commission. Few are of his caliber."

Read about the event here.


On March 24, 2011, Father Hesburgh autographed a steel I-beam at a ceremony to celebrate the construction of a $34 million community center in South Bend.

Begun last May and proceeding on schedule, the 105,000-square-foot center, to be operated by the Salvation Army, will have a water park, performing arts center, gym, dance studio, classrooms and other features. It will provide fun and services for South Bend residents needing facilities and programs to enhance their quality of life.

Primary funding came from Joan Kroc, the widow of Ray Kroc, founder of the McDonalds fast-food enterprise. The local Salvation Army has to raise $10 million to complement the $34 million Kroc gift; about $9.6 million has been raised thus far.

Kroc, who left more than a billion dollars to the Salvation Army to create 26 Kroc Centers across the country, and Father Hesburgh had long been friends. The University, too, has benefited greatly through her generosity through the years.


On September 16, 2010, Father Hesburgh had dinner at the Morris Inn with David Gaus ’84 and members of the board for Andean Health and Development, including John Rudolf ’70, who had attempted to summit Mount Everest this past spring.

Father Hesburgh had been instrumental in Gaus attending medical school and launching a clinic in a remote area of Ecuador. Gaus had worked among the poor in Ecuador after graduation — an experience that inspired him to pursue a medical career. Hesburgh’s friendship with advice columnist Ann Landers made possible the financial support for that career choice.

Gaus returned to Ecuador and opened a clinic then hospital which eventually became financially self-sufficient. He and his organization have since developed a series of clinics and hospitals in rural areas of South America. Their efforts have become a model for similar enterprises elsewhere.   

Rudolf, who attempted Everest after scaling the highest peaks on each of the other continents over the past few years, was climbing to raise funds for Andean Health and Development, which Father Hesburgh still serves as board chairman.


On September 5, 2010, the Sunday morning after Notre Dame’s season opener against Purdue, Father Hesburgh said Mass for about 20 visitors in his offices on the 13th floor of the Hesburgh Library.

The guests — known collectively as “the PR&D pioneers” — were on campus for their second reunion, a weekend of fellowship, food and reminiscing. The group, headed by Jim Cooney ’59, Joe Mulligan ’59, and Jim Frick ’51, were early members of the original Public Relations and Development staff.

Frick, the University’s first lay vice president, organized and directed Notre Dame’s fund-raising operation for almost four decades. Cooney and Mulligan had both been regional directors of development and former directors of the Alumni Association.

After Mass, the visitors turned the tables on the priest (evocative of the annual commencement blessing tradition) and blessed Father Hesburgh. He then visited with the group, swapping stories and recalling memories. The reunion was commemorating early fund-raising efforts, most notably the “Special Program in Education,” which brought them together more than a half century ago.

The program was instituted in 1960 by the Ford Foundation to provide $67 million to support a group of rapidly rising universities (Notre Dame, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, and the University of Denver). Each institution was challenged to raise matching funds, and Notre Dame responded with two successful fund-raising campaigns which were integral to the dramatic advancement during Father Hesburgh’s early presidency.     

Father Hesburgh thanked the group for being instrumental in the fulfillment of his plans for the University. “When I became President,” he recalled, “we didn’t just have someplace to go, we had everywhere to go. And while I dreamed of all we could do, we needed people to make it happen. You can’t build something without the means to do it. Without you, it couldn’t have happened.”


In May 2010 Father Hesburgh celebrated his 93rd birthday just as he has done for decades. He went fishing. He was at Land O' Lakes, Notre Dame's 10,000-acre property on the Wisconsin-Michigan border.

While Land O' Lakes provides invaluable research resources for the University and has figured significantly into Father Hesburgh's narrative, the north woods also provide the priest with a welcome retreat where he fishes, reads, says Mass, and stays in his own simple cabin. Beyond the Notre Dame campus, it is the priest's favorite haunt and always a good place to start a summer.

Over the summer of 2010 Father Hesburgh followed the routine of his retirement years—coming to his office daily, keeping up with correspondence, meeting with visitors, enjoying an occasional cigar, and following the news of the day.

Macular degeneration necessitates having students read to him from books, the day's papers, the latest issue of Notre Dame Magazine. While the pace is slower than it once was, his days are full and schedule carefully plotted by his assistant Melanie Chapleau, and this summer's activities included a visit with old friends in South Carolina and meeting with the new coaching staff.

He also made it back to Land O' Lakes near summer's end for more fishing and solitude before another school year.


Selected Photos

  • Featured by <i>Time </i>magazine According to Time magazine, by 1962 Father Hesburgh had become the most influential voice in reshaping Catholic higher education in the United States.
  • A common purpose Father Hesburgh linking arms with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., while singing "We Shall Overcome" at a 1964 civil rights rally held at Chicago's Soldier Field. The Smithsonian Institution later included this image in a gallery honoring those courageous citizens who sought social justice in the 20th century.
  • Father Hesburgh and Pope John Paul II Father Hesburgh greeting Pope John Paul II in 1979. Four years later, the pope would appoint Father Hesburgh to the Pontifical Council for Culture.
  • President Kennedy and Father Hesburgh President John F. Kennedy and Father Hesburgh participating in a meeting of the Civil Rights Commission in 1961. Father Hesburgh had been a member of the commission since the Eisenhower Administration.
  • Standing at attention Dwight D. Eisenhower and Father Hesburgh review Notre Dame's ROTC unit as it welcomes the president to campus for commencement in 1960. Photo by Chet Gebert of the Elkhart Truth.