Born in Syracuse, New York (1917)

Born on May 25, 1917, in Syracuse, N.Y., to Anne Murphy Hesburgh and Theodore Bernard Hesburgh; one brother and three sisters.

Enrolled at Notre Dame (1934)

Enrolled at Notre Dame in 1934. After three years of studies, he relocated to Rome and earned a bachelor of philosophy degree from the Gregorian University in 1939. Because he was sent to Rome for further studies, Hesburgh never finished his Notre Dame degree --- a curious note in his resume that was addressed in 1984 when the University awarded him an honorary degree 32 years after he became President.

Ordained as a Holy Cross priest (1943)

Ordained as a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1943 at Sacred Heart Church on the Notre Dame campus, he immediately volunteered as a military chaplain but was instead sent to Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to pursue a doctorate, which he received in 1945.

Taught religion courses at Notre Dame (1945)

Taught courses in the Department of Religion, created syllabi for classes, and was named head of the Department of Theology in 1948. One year later he was appointed executive vice president of the University, serving under Rev. John Cavanaugh, C.S.C.

Named the 15th President of Notre Dame (1952)

At age 35, Father Hesburgh assumed the presidency of Notre Dame in 1952. He had served the previous three years as executive vice president for his predecessor, Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C. 

Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., was named as Father Hesburgh's replacement as executive vice president, and served in that capacity until 1987.

When Father Hesburgh stepped down from his presidential post after 35 years, he was the longest-tenured university president in the United States. 

Received first presidential appointment (1954)

Appointed by President Eisenhower to the National Science Board in 1954, the first of Father Hesburgh's 16 presidential appointments.  

Accepted first honorary degree (1954)

Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., bestowed an honorary degree upon Father Hesburgh in 1954. Since then, he has received 150 honorary degrees, including one from each Ivy League school that awards them. According to Guinness World Records, Father Hesburgh has garnered more honorary degrees than any other person.  

Named a Holy See diplomat (1956)

Represented the Holy See at the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1956 until 1970. 

Appointed to Civil Rights Commission (1957)

In 1957, President Eisenhower chose Father Hesburgh as one of the charter members of the Civil Rights Commission. Civil rights leader Andrew Young later said, "If Father Hesburgh was for you, you didn’t care who was against you."

President Richard Nixon dismissed Father Hesburgh from the commission in 1972 after a disagreement arose concerning the commission's findings and conclusions.

Appointed to National Science Board (1957)

Served on the board until 1970.

Featured in Time magazine (1962)

Time magazine featured an article on Catholic intellectuals in 1962 and placed Father Hesburgh on the cover. According to a former University of Chicago chancellor quoted in the article, "The Notre Dame efflorescence has been one of the most spectacular developments in higher education in the last 25 years." 

Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964)

President Johnson honored Father Hesburgh with the nation's highest civilian award in 1964, citing Hesburgh's work as a humanitarian and educator. According to Johnson, "He has inspired a generation of students and given of his wisdom in the struggle for the rights of man." 

Partnered with Martin Luther King Jr. (1964)

Father Hesburgh held hands and sang “We Shall Overcome” with Dr. King at Soldier Field in Chicago on June 21, 1964. Years later, the Smithsonian Institution acquired a photograph from that day of the two men and included the image in a gallery to pay tribute to the brave citizens who sought justice in the 20th century.  

Empowered the laity at Notre Dame (1967)

Transferred governance of Notre Dame from the Congregation of Holy Cross to a two-tiered, mixed board of lay and religious trustees and fellows in 1967. In the same year, Father Hesburgh hosted a conference that resulted in the Land O’Lakes Statement, a document which called for Catholic universities to be more autonomous of Church bodies. The University of Notre Dame celebrated its 125th year in 1967.

Called for greater diversity of Notre Dame workforce (1967)

Determined that Notre Dame's percentage of minority employees be increased to 11 percent, the proportion of African Americans in South Bend at that time. Four years later, the number of minorities working at Notre Dame had increased more than sevenfold, from 45 to 345. 

Led a Vatican human rights delegation (1968)

At the request of Pope Paul VI, Father Hesburgh led the Vatican delegation to the 20th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. 

Chaired the Civil Rights Commission (1969)

In 1969, he was named the chair of the Civil Rights Commission, a position he held until disputes with the Nixon administration led to his dismissal in 1972. President Dwight Eisenhower had appointed Father Hesburgh to that commission upon its inception in 1957.

Delivered the "Hesburgh Declaration" (1969)

Penned a historic letter to students and faculty about protests and the need to maintain order on campus in 1969. The letter was published in the New York Times for a national audience. The following year he won the Meiklejohn Award of the American Association of University Professors for his crucial role in thwarting the Nixon administration's attempts to use federal troops to control campus protests.

Resumed post-season football (1970)

Insisted that Notre Dame end its 40-year-long absence in football post-season bowl games. Notre Dame used the proceeds from the 1970 Cotton Bowl to fund minority scholarships. 

Maintained calm during national unrest (1970)

After hearing a rumor that the ROTC building would be firebombed by antiwar protesters, Father Hesburgh delivered a seminal speech on May 4, 1970, condemning violent protesters but calling for withdrawal from Vietnam. On the same day, National Guard personnel fired on Kent State protesters, igniting even more unrest at campuses nationwide. But Notre Dame avoided violent protests. According to a Time magazine article in 1971, Father Hesburgh "is so popular among his students that Notre Dame may well be among the nation's most disruption-proof major campuses."

Welcomed Notre Dame's first women students (1972)

Ushered in coeducation with the acceptance of women in 1972. That year, the undergraduate student body had a ratio of 17 men for every woman, but the ratio had swiftly dropped to 4:1 by 1975.

Provided vision for the Tantur Ecumenical Institute (1972)

Answered Pope Paul VI's request to help establish the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem to promote greater religious understanding and collaboration. Opening its doors in 1972, the institute continues to offer a range of programs for thoughtful dialogue, spiritual experiences, and scholarship for Notre Dame students.

Represented the Holy See and United States (1974)

Appointed by Pope Paul VI to Holy See’s United Nations delegation in 1974. President Carter appointed him U.S. ambassador to the 1979 United Nations Conference on Science and Technology, making him the first priest to become a U.S. ambassador.  

Named to Presidential Clemency Board (1974)

Served as U.S. ambassador and chairman of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Conference on Science and Technology for Development (1979)

Appointed to Select Commission on Immigration (1979)

Stepped down from Notre Dame presidency (1987)

Retired from top administrative post at Notre Dame on June 1, 1987, with widespread fanfare, including a motorized scooter ride through campus. With his right-hand man, Father Edmund Joyce, C.S.C., at his side, the two shared a yearlong sabbatical / adventure which was later chronicled in Travels with Ted and Ned.

Co-chaired Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics (1990-1996)

Co-chaired the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics from 1990 until 1996. Under his leadership, the commission became an influential advocate for reforms in college sports.

Authored a best-selling autobiography (1990)

God, Country, Notre Dame, reached No. 11 on the New York Times list of best-sellers in 1990. 

Led Harvard University's board of overseers (1994)

Was the first priest to be named an overseer at Harvard University. He served as the president of the board from 1994 until 1995. 

Awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (1999)

Received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999, one of the nation's highest civilian honors. The award acknowledged "his outstanding and enduring contributions to civil rights, higher education, the Catholic Church, the nation, and the global community," and passed unanimously. 

Received Gerald R. Ford Award (2004)

Became the first recipient of the NCAA's Gerald R. Ford Award for leadership in intercollegiate athletics.

Celebrated 90th Birthday (2007)

Celebrated his 90th birthday, including a gala at the Smithsonian Institution, where a famed photograph of him and Martin Luther King Jr. standing in solidarity was included in the permanent collection of the institution's National Portrait Gallery.

Selected Photos