International Service & Travel

“We in America will sleep uneasily on our Beautyrest mattresses if we remember that a third of mankind has gone to bed hungry.” —Father Hesburgh, in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine (June 1958)

In addition to serving as President of the University of Notre Dame for 35 years, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., held 16 presidential appointments under nine Presidents. The various committees he served on often related to moral issues and included such topics as civil rights, discontent on college campuses, atomic energy and peace, Third World countries, Vietnam War draft resisters, and immigration.

Father Hesburgh received both the Medal of Freedom in 1964 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor, and Father Hesburgh was the first figure in higher education to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.

In 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Father Hesburgh to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and he continued to serve as a member and later, chairman, until 1972. The Civil Rights Commission sought to investigate civil rights violations and report to Congress on their findings in order to encourage the writing and passing of new laws regarding civil rights.

Father Hesburgh served as chairman of the board of the Overseas Development Council from 1971 to 1982. The organization had been created to conduct research on third world nations and encourage U.S. policymakers and citizens alike to support the development of third world countries. During his time on the Overseas Development Council, Father Hesburgh also became co-chair of the National Cambodian Crisis Committee and helped raise awareness and funds to help the starving people of Cambodia.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford appointed Father Hesburgh to his Presidential Clemency Board. The purpose of the board was to determine on an individual basis what was to be done with the Vietnam War draft evaders and military personnel who had received dishonorable discharge during the war. A strong advocate of forgiveness, Father Hesburgh favored clemency for all, and in the end, only 911 of the 15,468 applicants to the Clemency Board were not granted clemency.

In 1978, the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy was created, and Vice President Walter Mondale asked Father Hesburgh to serve as its chairman. The 16 commissioners included Cabinet members, members of Congress, and public service members. In 1981, the commission's recommendations included cutting down on illegal immigration and increasing legal immigration. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 followed many of the commission's recommendations.

As a university president, Father Hesburgh saw that his involvements in national and international affairs were inextricably tied to his aspirations for Notre Dame. He saw the connections that were growing between universities in general and the spheres of governmental action, publicly funded grants and projects, Church involvement and engagement of the world's religions, private philanthropy, and much more.

By the time of his retirement, he had visited more than 100 countries.

About a month after Father Hesburgh capped his tenure as University President with a valedictory speech in May 1987, he and longtime Executive Vice President Rev. Edmond P. Joyce, C.S.C., left the campus in a recreational vehicle for a rare, lengthy vacation. Their first trip took them to the American West, visiting dozens of national parks and national forests. Later that same year, the two traveled to Latin America. Their next trip involved serving as chaplains on a hundred-day cruise aboard the Queen Elizabeth II. By the end of 1988, they had visited Australia, China, Korea, Japan, Hawaii, and Antarctica.

Father Hesburgh's globetrotting continued through the years as he was involved with numerous Church, humanitarian, and political projects.

In 1989, Father Hesburgh was among a dozen people chosen to observe political conditions in Namibia to monitor the African country's movement toward a freely elected government.

In 1992, two years after God, Country, Notre Dame was published, Doubleday published Travels with Ted and Ned, an edited collection of Father Hesburgh's travel journals penned since his retirement. He said, "It's a book about enjoying, not dreading, retirement." 

Hesburgh, Theodore Martin, and Jerry Reedy. "Civil Rights for All." God, Country, Notre Dame. New York: Doubleday, 1990. Print.. Hesburgh, Theodore Martin, and Jerry Reedy. "Student Revolution." God, Country, Notre Dame. New York: Doubleday, 1990. Print. O'Brien, Michael. "Becoming a Legend, 1973–1987." Hesburgh: a Biography. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1998. Print.

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