Sitting Room & Chapel

Photo of Space shuttle

Space shuttle

Fr. Hesburgh, a flying and space aficionado, always wanted to say the first Mass in space, a dream that might have come to fruition. He managed to get himself on the list of civilian volunteers to go up in the space shuttle, but the 1986 Challenger disaster put an end to civilian space travel.

Photo of SR 71 model

SR 71 model

Probably Fr. Hesburgh’s favorite story, which former President Jimmy Carter told at the recent memorial tribute. Carter recalled how he made the mistake in 1979 of asking Fr. Hesburgh if there was anything he could do for him. Fr. Hesburgh told Carter he wanted a ride on a SR-71 supersonic reconnaissance jet, known as the Blackbird. "I said, `Father Hesburgh, it's not customary for civilians to ride on top-secret aircraft,'" Carter said. "He said, `That's all right. I thought you were commander in chief.'" Hesburgh had said he passed the astronaut fitness test to take the flight, which set a new speed record of Mach 3.5, and flew from Sacramento to Denver and Seattle and back in about 45 minutes. Very few people on earth have traveled faster, and it was one of the thrills of his life.

Photo of Russian samovar

Russian samovar

Fr. Hesburgh told the story of a Russian student at Notre Dame who came to his office because his mother was dying in Kazakhstan. She couldn’t get a visa to come the United States for a special treatment, so Fr. Hesburgh called the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, an old friend, to arrange the passage. The hospital treatment saved her life, and she sent as a gift the samovar, a traditional vessel used to boil water for tea.

Photo of Trustee angel

Trustee angel

A gift from the Board of Trustees given to Fr. Hesburgh when he celebrated 50 years as a priest. 

Photo of Mestrovic drawing (chapel)

Mestrovic drawing (chapel)

Ivan Mestrovic’s lead pencil drawing on butcher paper is the model for the pieta in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The Croatian artist drew it in the former Yugoslavia while being harassed by the Nazis, then contemplated it often while in jail. After he left Yugoslavia, he hand sculpted every element of the pieta based on this drawing out of a 20-ton block of Carrera marble in Rome. In 1955, Hesburgh hired Mestrovic, whom he considered the foremost Catholic sculptor, to come to Notre Dame. The artist later asked that his marble masterpiece reside at Notre Dame rather than the Museum of Modern Art in New York.