Path to Priesthood & Notre Dame

“I never wanted to be anything but a priest, which is in itself a great and unearned grace. I hope to live and die a priest, nothing more, but nothing less either.” —Father Hesburgh, in the 1983 commencement address at Immaculate Conception Seminary

From the age of six onward, Ted felt his calling in life was to become a priest. Raised by religious parents who took their family to Mass regularly and sent all of their children to Catholic school, Ted was supported in his decision to pursue the priesthood.

When Ted was in eighth grade, several Holy Cross missionaries visited his parish. One of them, Rev. Tom Duffy, C.S.C., spoke to Ted and the other altar boys about life as a Holy Cross priest. Upon hearing of Ted's hope to join the priesthood, Father Duffy encouraged the Hesburghs to enroll their son in the Holy Cross high school seminary at the University of Notre Dame. Although his mother respected Ted's desire to be a priest, she insisted that he was not old enough to leave their home, and instead he attended Most Holy Rosary High School.

In high school, Ted studied English, French, Latin, religion, history, algebra, geometry, and chemistry under the instruction of the nuns who ran the school.  When he was not in school, Ted did a variety of odd jobs such as mowing lawns and selling newspapers to earn money, and during his senior year, worked 40 hours a week at a gas station. He also played sports and socialized, including dating girls from his school. While Ted enjoyed his time at Most Holy Rosary High School, he did not lose sight of his dream of becoming a priest.

Throughout high school, Ted stayed in contact with Father Duffy and was eventually given the choice to join the Eastern Province of Holy Cross at Stonehill College in Massachusetts or the Western Province of Holy Cross at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Ted chose Notre Dame, and in the fall of 1934, left his home in Syracuse to follow his dream.

Although neither of their parents had gone to college, four of the five Hesburgh children went to college, earning collectively four bachelor's degrees, four master's degrees, and one doctorate. After studying at the Holy Cross Seminary at Notre Dame for three years, Ted relocated to Rome and earned his bachelor of philosophy degree from the Gregorian University.

Ted returned to the United States and in 1943 was ordained a priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross in a liturgy at Sacred Heart Church, later the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, at Notre Dame. Once, when asked what he would want written on his tombstone someday, Father Ted responded with one word: "Priest."

He later earned his doctorate of theological studies from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

For more information on Father Hesburgh's path to the priesthood and Notre Dame, see the following resources:

Hesburgh, Theodore Martin, and Jerry Reedy. "Growing Up Catholic." God, Country, Notre Dame. New York: Doubleday, 1990. Print. O'Brien, Michael. "Early Life, 1917–1945." Hesburgh: a Biography. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1998. Print.