Hesburgh Quotes

"Our words are buttressed by our deeds, and our deeds are inspired by our convictions."

—Contemporary Issues in Higher Education, 1985


"Anyone or any group that substitutes force for rational persuasion, be it violent or non-violent, will be given fifteen minutes of meditation to cease and desist."

—From his letter to the University community, February 17, 1969


"Notre Dame can and must be a crossroads where all the vital intellectual currents of our time meet in dialogue, where the great issues of the Church and the world today are plumbed to their depths, where every sincere inquirer is welcomed and listened to and respected by a serious consideration of what he has to say about his belief or unbelief, his certainty or uncertainty; where differences of culture and religion and conviction can co-exist with friendship, civility, hospitality, respect and love; a place where the endless conversation is harbored and not foreclosed."

—From “The Endless Conversation” video, 1975


"The university is not the kind of place that one can or should try to rule by authority external to the university. The best and only traditional authority in the university is intellectual competence: this is the coin of the realm."

—The Challenge and Promise of a Catholic University


"Whatever you value, be committed to it and let nothing distract you from this goal. The uncommitted life, like Plato’s unexamined life, is not worth living."

—The Hesburgh Papers, 1979


"We in America will sleep uneasily in our Beautyrest mattresses if we remember that a third of humankind has gone to bed hungry."

—Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, July 1958


"We teach human dignity best by serving it where it is most likely to be disregarded, in the poor and abandoned."

—The Hesburgh Papers, 1979


"Two predictions are fairly obvious. First, there will be enormous changes that we can no more visualize or imagine than someone 50 years ago could visualize what was about to happen and at what a staggering rate of change; and second, one might predict that this changing world will confront humankind with enormous new moral problems of unprecedented proportion and consequences.

"Universities, the font of most human knowledge and knowledgeable people, will be at the heart of generating the people who, in turn, will generate the change. And secondly, it will take a very special kind of university to direct change in such a way that humans do not destroy themselves and their world.

"All this is meant to indicate that the future, uncertain though it is, will not be all that frightening if we have some institutions that undertake the dual task of transmitting and expanding knowledge, but at the same time, the more difficult role of educating persons with that sense of moral responsibility and judgment required to manage change and to use knowledge for mankind’s betterment and progress, instead of for its destruction. It is this kind of institution that Notre Dame aspires to be."

—From “And they called it the University of Notre Dame du Lac,” 1977


"Without values, the multinational manager may forget that foreign profit without indigenous development in that country is a formula for economic and political disaster, at home as well as abroad."

—Address, Loretto Heights College, 1982


"We do mean to be a great university and a great Catholic university. We are open to all the great questions of our times. We are confident enough, of ourselves and our students, to look at a wide variety of possible answers and to be assured that new light will be brought to bear upon these problems as we discuss them in a Christian context. We have no problem with other universities choosing to do their discussing in what might well be a more restrictive context, more secular, less religious, more purely or exclusively scientific and technological. So be it. But we need not be defensive in placing the same discussion in a different context, more universal (which is the meaning of catholic), more Christian, more moral, more spiritual, more open to God, but no less intellectual. We do what we do freely, and in the conviction that the times, and especially the future, will need such an approach."

—From “And they called it the University of Notre Dame du Lac,” 1977


"There are few sights more heartrending than human beings without food or drink. One understands, in seeing them, the premium the good Lord placed on feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty."

—The Human Imperative, 1974


"This mystery of life is what really is at the heart of our concern, because we say it is a gift so stupendous, so magnificent, so mysterious that no one but God has any rights over it."

—Address at the “Respect for Life Mass,” University of Notre Dame, 1975


 "Many people take a dim view of the very possibility of a Catholic university. George Bernard Shaw put it most bluntly when he declared that a Catholic university is a contradiction in terms. I presume that he viewed the church of his day as an essentially closed society and the university as an essentially open society.

"The core of the answer to Shaw must, of course, be that a university does not cease to be free because it is Catholic. Otherwise, I am not sure an answer is possible.

" It should also be said that the Catholic university is not the Catholic church. It might be said to be of the church as it serves the church and the people of God, but it certainly is not the magisterium, although it does respect it. It is not a seminary, although seminarians may study in it. It is not the church teaching, but a place — the only place — in which Catholics and others, on the highest level of intellectual inquiry, seek out the relevance of the Christian message to all of the problems and opportunities that face us and our complex world." 

—From The Challenge and Promise of a Catholic University


"The problem of human rights is so universal that it transcends all other problems that face humanity."

—The Humane Imperative, 1974


"If our lives in education have any meaning or significance, it will be in our reading the signs of the times and in educating the young of our times in the visions and values that will civilize and make for reasonable human progress and lasting peace on earth."

—The Hesburgh Papers, 1979


"If religious persons are committed profoundly to one simple reality all around the world, it must be peace. . . . And without justice, especially to the poor, the homeless and the hopeless, there will be no peace."

—Address at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C., 1979


"Science can make man comfortable, but only wisdom can make man happy."

—Address at the President’s Dinner, University of Notre Dame, 1957


"The Holy Spirit is the light and strength of my life, for which I am eternally grateful. My best daily prayer, apart from the Mass and breviary, continues to be simply, 'Come, Holy Spirit.' No better prayer, no better results: much light and much strength."

Selected Photos