He welcomed late-night visitors who dropped into his office, penned countless personal letters, and remembered names of people he’d met just once. He gave plenty of just-in-time blessings for students anxious about exams. And as busy as he was, he had no trouble making time to give a student a ride across campus on a rainy day.
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. — known to so many as Father Ted — is remembered for his visionary leadership at Notre Dame and his work as an advisor to popes and presidents. But a large part of his impact came from his countless interactions with everyday people. The Alumni Association asked our alumni and friends to share their favorite Father Ted stories on Facebook, and dozens did, painting a picture of a tireless people-person who was never too busy to make time for others.
A Rainy Day Ride
“In the fall of 1985, I was walking back to Fisher Hall in a rainstorm,” recalled John Conmy ’89. “A car pulled over and offered a ride. The Holy Cross priest asked me about my family, where I was from, and what I was studying. He then extended his hand and said, ‘Nice to meet you John, I'm Father Ted Hesburgh.’”
A Friend to Trick-or-Treaters
Kathy Casper Harriett ’82 was in full costume when she met Father Ted in the fall of 1978.
“While walking back to Walsh Hall after having more than a bit of fun at a Halloween party at Stepan Center, my friend Susan Labriola Livingston ’82 and I decided since Father Ted’s light was on in the Admin Building, it would be a good idea to climb the fire escape up to his window (while in our Halloween costumes!), and knock on his window to trick or treat,” she wrote. “Well, not only did he not call security, he opened the window slightly, suggested we climb back down carefully and said he would meet us on the porch at the front door. We scampered down the fire escape and ran up the front steps. There was Father Ted, with a bowl of Halloween candy! He asked us our names and where we were from, and how we liked freshman year so far. He made quite an impression on me.”
An Exam Blessing
Mike Thompson ’85 was among numerous students who received a blessing from Father Ted during a particularly stressful time studying.
“I remember studying in the administration building late one night with a dear friend in 1981 for the first-semester Emil Hofman chemistry final exam. Needless to say, we were in a panic so we knocked on Father Ted's door to ask for a blessing,” he remembered. But they were told Father Ted was in a meeting. “So we dolefully wandered off, only to be called back to the office by Father Ted himself, who gave us his blessing. Seems to me that Father Ted always knew that the students were and are the heart and soul of Notre Dame. By the way, I scored an A in chemistry that semester.”
Praying With an Ailing Brother
“Father Ted was many things but first and foremost a wonderful priest,” Christine Kurtzke Hughes ’89 wrote. Christine observed Father Ted’s ministry first-hand. Her brother, Rev. John F. Kurtzke, C.S.C., ’73, ’84 M.Div., suffered a stroke in his 50s that ended his professorial career and limited his priestly duties. He moved to Holy Cross House, where Father Ted also was living.
“Father Ted always had time for my parents. And when my brother really started to fail, Father Ted prayed with him every single night for months before his death,” Christine wrote. “This great man mourned with us at my brother’s wake and funeral. I will never forget that.”
The Power of Listening
Bill Healy ’86 arranged for his parents and his grandmother (Nana) to meet with Father Ted. Before the meeting, he explained to Father Ted that Nana had suffered a stroke, and that while her mind remained sharp, she often struggled when speaking.
“As nervous people do, my folks and I were trying to fill silence with noise,” Bill wrote, “but Ted Hesburgh would have none of our nonsense. He wanted to hear from Nana. And what I saw next is as close as a miracle as I will ever see. Ted quieted everyone down and started talking to Nana. It was clear from moment one that he was in no rush and she could take her time with her answers. His calm overtook her. She was at peace. And in no time she spoke more clearly, more passionately and more joyfully than I had seen her speak in years. … God bless you Father Ted. You made a woman I adored, my Nana, unbelievably happy. And a 20-year-old kid proud as can be.”
He Never Forgot a Face
During his student days, Tom Hoban ’61 had several interactions with Father Ted. “I waited on the head table at Corby and knew him from there but also was a go-fer for Father Joyce and Father Ted when I had a part time job working for Jim Murphy in the Public Information office back in ’59/’60,” he wrote.
More than 20 years after he graduated, Tom came back for Reunion. “I was walking on campus...and from some distance I saw Father Ted and gave him a wave. Amazingly, he called out, ‘Is that you Tom?’”
Mamie Anthoine Ney ’75 S.M.C., ’78 M.B.A. said she met Father Ted a few times during her years in South Bend. “Always made me feel like I was the only person in the room,” she wrote. “Remembered me several years later when I saw him while a member of the Alumni Board. He remembered ‘Mamie from Maine.’”
One night during Martin Sheehan’s ’80 freshman year, Father Ted said Mass for the men of Morrissey. Sheehan played guitar during the Mass, and Father Hesburgh made a point of thanking all of the musicians, asking their names and where they were from. Several weeks later, Sheehan’s path again crossed with Father Ted’s.
“I was walking alone from the library to Morrissey around midnight. It was cold as hell, snow and ice everywhere – you know, typical South Bend. Coming towards me on the sidewalk was Father Hesburgh. It was clearly him, and we were the only ones walking along that path. We steadily walked straight toward each other, and as we passed I said, ‘Good night Father.’ He answered: ‘Keep up the good work, Martin.’ That boosted my spirits like nothing else could have! That huge campus with thousands of students, this man was known all around the world, and he knew me by name.”
And James Casto ’96 M.B.A. shared a similar story. “Met him in the elevator my first year at ND in ’94,” he wrote. “Had a brief conversation. About a year later, we met again in the same elevator and he remembered my name and hometown. Incredible.”
“I remember that it was really easy to meet with him at the hallways or even in the elevators of the library,” recalled Victor Alarcón-Olguín ’94 M.A. “He was always kind and attentive to any comment. He liked to hear how his name was spelled or pronounced in other languages such as in Spanish. He was a great leader and so inspirational.”
An Invitation for Coffee
“I was in the library reading a book for my philosophy class when Father Ted walked past me on the way to his office,” Dhiraj Mehra ’96 remembered. “Suddenly, he turned and looked at me and smiled saying, ‘Would you like to join me for a cup of coffee and a chat about that book?’ Being a freshman from India, at that time I did not realize what a great opportunity this was, but I did enjoy my 15 minutes of coffee and our shared discussion on the book.”
Gratitude for a Small Favor
Kathleen Vogt Robert ’93 and her friend, Tanya Haas ’93, went to visit Father Ted’s office in the library one day. He welcomed the students in, and the three enjoyed a nice conversation. Before the young women left, Father Ted said he thought his rug was crooked and asked them to help him fix it. They moved some furniture off the rug, straightened the rug out, and moved the furniture back.
“You would have thought we just made a donation to fund another building he was so delighted.,” Kathleen remembered. “Tanya and I left feeling amazing like we had been singled out. He had a way of making each person feel singularly special.”
Answering a Late-Night Call
“I still remember the night, sitting in a dorm room during our freshman year when, on a dare, I dialed the president’s phone number at one o’clock in the morning (he was rumored to keep late hours),” André Hutchinson ’86 wrote. A voice answered on the first or second ring, and to Hutchinson’s recollection, this is how the conversation went:
“May I speak to Father Hesburgh, please?”
“This is André Hutchinson; I’m a freshman…”
“Go ahead; this is Father Ted. How can I help you?”
Conversations About Coeducation
Cecilia Lesmes ’03 met Father Ted several times, but her favorite memory is interviewing him for a research project on coeducation at Notre Dame.
“We talked for a long time and I just remember being mesmerized by his words and how genuine he was about the whole experience of transitioning the University and helping to protect the women from discrimination and retaliation and to grant them the same amazing opportunities going forward that the men had,” she said. “I’m so grateful for that fateful day in history or I would never have had the amazing education and experiences I had while at ND and I never would have had the honor to meet Father Ted.”
A Simple Prayer
After Father Ted wrote God, Country, Notre Dame, Jane Graf's ’84 S.M.C. company was hired to handle his book tour, and Jane traveled with Father Ted to many of his appearances. During one stop, she turned to Father Ted when an ambulance drove by with its sirens blaring.
“I said I always wondered what to say or pray when I witnessed such first responders,” she wrote, “His reply -- ‘It is simple; simply ask May God go with you, and those you go to aid.’ Not a day has gone by since that those words are not whispered by me over some passing fire engine, ambulance or police car.”
Pennies for His Thoughts
“On several occasions when hosting weekend visitors or prospective students I adopted the practice of walking them out to the Admin Building at about 2:30 a.m. to see if Father Ted’s office light was on,” Gerry Foley ’85 remembered. “If so, I would throw pennies at his window until he'd open it. At first he'd be a bit perturbed (once, he yelled); but, without fail, upon learning that my intent was to introduce him to visitors he warmly engaged them in conversation with genuine grace and hospitality.”
A JPW Surprise
Susan E. Pratt ’85 and her three brothers all attended Notre Dame. Her parents always had hoped to stay at the Morris Inn during Junior Parents Weekend, but they kept coming up short in the lottery for tickets to stay in the hotel. When Susan learned that her youngest brother didn’t win the lottery, she turned to Father Ted.
“When I heard he didn't get the ticket, I was determined to find a way,” she said. “I proceeded to climb up the fire escape of the administrative building and knocked on the window. Father Hesburgh invited me in (through the window). He talked about his recent trip to China for about an hour then asked why I was there. I told him. He said he would see what he could do, blessed me, and sent me on my way (out the main entrance). The very next day, I had two tickets for the Morris Inn in my mailbox. Tears flowed down my cheek. He truly cares!”
A Prayer at the Grotto
Father Ted did truly care, as countless can attest. One of the more poignant stories came from Mike Holsinger ’82, who recalled how Father Ted made time to pray with him after a late-night study session had left him at the Grotto, pondering what might happen if he didn’t pass the class.
“The snow fell quietly and I stood there alternately praying and wondering what being a college dropout might feel like,” he said. “I lost track of time. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and there he was. Father Ted looked me in the eye, smiled warmly and said, ‘Don't worry son, you'll be fine.’
“I thanked him, and as he turned and walked back to his room in Corby Hall, I noticed just one light on in the building. A well-known night owl, Father Ted had looked down from his room and noticed me standing in the snow.
“He was right. Everything was fine. Thanks, Father Ted.”