[The Montana Professor 1.2, Spring 1991 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

God, Country, Notre Dame

Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., with Jerry Reedy
New York: Doubleday, 1990

Stanley J. Heywood
Education (Emeritus)
Eastern Montana College

Having been associated with Father Ted Hesburgh on the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, reading and commenting on his autobiography was a special treat. The book is "told" to his collaborator Jerry Reedy and it is to Reedy's credit that Father Ted speaks to the reader without separation of tone in word, phrase, sentence, or anecdote.

This is actually a book about theology. No, not in the constrained sense of a textbook in theology or of a philosophical tome, but in the contemporary analysis of how theology should undergird the vagaries and complexities of the 20th century world--the medieval center brought up to date.

The title comes from the memorial in the parish church of Notre Dame--Sacred Heart--to the men who gave their lives in World War I: For God, Country, Notre Dame. The priorities are right for Father Ted as the book begins and ends with the importance of his being considered "essentially a priest." Yes, he was an advisor to presidents, a representative of the Vatican, a college administrator including President of Notre Dame, a member and chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, a member of the National Science Board, a member of the State Department's Commission on International Education and Cultural Affairs, member and/or chairman of noted academic commissions from administration to athletics, but in all these capacities he was "loving and serving Jesus Christ by loving and serving all those in need anywhere and everywhere."

What are the qualities of a priest that shine through this book and through his life? At the very least they include his devotion to his family, which extends beyond his private family to the family of mankind; his graceful energy; his ecumenicism, well beyond Christianity; his breadth of true understanding of morality; his sensitive application of values to country and to higher education; and his good humor and optimism. All these testify to a faith that "the providence of God will be up before dawn." Academics need not think that his mission as a priest limits his message to parochial or private institutions. He sees higher education and sees it whole. He knows, and is unafraid to fight within his own hierarchy and outside, or to declare whenever necessary that without the underpinnings of those characteristics essential in great institutions of higher learning, Catholic higher education--yea, all higher education--will fail. So he puts forth clearly and succinctly his concern for the rule of law, students' rights and responsibilities, partnership of constituent groups, academic freedom, shared governance, independence, open speakers' policies, top salaries for competent service, endowments particularly for leadership and research outside the regular instructional programs at graduate and undergraduate levels. In his own institution he might have had an easier time on some issues if he had remained the "religious superior," but it was his strong feeling that a great university demanded the separation.

His ecumenism is well known and I was able to witness it in his everyday efforts to make individuals comfortable in the presence of a Catholic "man of the cloth." Certainly he always made this Anglican reviewer feel at home, as when he told me of being on a committee with the then Archbishop of Canterbury and Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist religious leaders, working for peace. His relationship with Emelyanov, the Communist atom chief, and his reply to MacNamara, then Chairman of the World Bank, are significant. MacNamara said, "I'm not even a Catholic." Hesburgh's reply, "I didn't ask you whether you were a Catholic. I asked you if you would do the first reading." It works in reverse, too, when he was able to offer Mass at the Chapel of the Bishop's Palace of the Anglican Bishop of Wells, England. Besides not having a Catholic Mass in that chapel since the beginning of the Church of England, the Bishop was a chap named George Carey, last year appointed to succeed Archbishop Runcie at Canterbury. So the Canterbury-Hesburgh relationship continues.

Father Hesburgh is by training and experience a Christian humanist. In spite of the opinions of theologians such as Jerry Fallwell, these characteristics are so mixed within him that there is no dichotomy. He has found "the more inclusive answer." He is the true eclectic and, in the style of De Chardin, has seen the integrative nature of the world, not the disruptive and pessimistic separateness that specialization often produced.

President Eisenhower appointed him, because he was "a man...versed in the humanities," to the National Science Board, where he served 12 years. The President concluded that "every science policy making body should have a humanities person there, if only for help in guidance." Father Ted continued this connection with science through his appointment as representative of the Vatican to the International Atomic Energy Agency. His personal relationship with Emelyanov contributed more toward dialogue between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. than any official relationship between the Russian and American delegates could have done.

Father Ted, who often saw students in his office, took a strong line on the need for civility and rationality by students during the '60s. He was to the left of Hayakawa and to the right of Clark Kerr. Although keeping in mind the Catholic tradition of Father Hesburgh and the Quaker traditions of President Kerr, one might explain away most differences by comparing a public institution whose Board of Regents was chaired by a Governor named Reagan and a Catholic institution where the hierarchy of obedience was stronger. Perhaps it was easier to draw the line at Notre Dame, perhaps not.

Those who lived through the sixties and early seventies as a college president, as this reviewer did, will find Chapter Seven, "Student Revolution," informative on the past, helpful to the present, and suggestive for the future. Hesburgh's role in opposing federal legislation against student disruption speaks for itself. Certainly his support of non-violent protest and for analysis of non-violent solutions is equally clear. The volume of the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, Dissent and Disruption, with his contributions, had the support of the whole Commission. It was published as the Viet Nam war came to an end. At present writing the same issues are back with the U.S.-Iraq war. Even Joseph McCarthy's fear mongering may be repeated.

While we still have many aspects of de facto racism in the United States today, many of our students and general citizens do not realize that it is less than 30 years ago that we had as strict de jure apartheid in parts of our country as in South Africa. Ted Hesburgh served 15 years on the Commission through Presidents Eisenhower (as an independent), Kennedy ("so politically sensitive"), Johnson ("deserves a great deal of credit for the passage of the Omnibus Civil Rights Act of 1964..."), Nixon ("Civil Rights has few friends in the Nixon administration"). Yet there was no grudge as Nixon replaced him with Arthur Flemming, well known in higher education in the Northwest.

For those interested in the most public of his American governmental responsibilities, chapter eleven, "Civil Rights for All," provides the flavor of Hesburgh and the flavor of the times. The fact that hotels in the South wouldn't accommodate the Commission and their staff including one black commissioner (Wilkins) and two black lawyers is only topped by the refusal of everyone below President Eisenhower to approve putting them up at Maxwell Air Force Base. Many other personal stories help to document that the Afrikaaner had no monopoly on racism. Few readers will not be struck by the story of a dentist who served under Eisenhower as a Captain in Europe but couldn't vote in Louisiana.

"Wish us luck," Father Ted says as he and Bill Friday (President Emeritus of the University of North Carolina, and another Carnegie Commission on Higher Education member) try to "clear up the current moral mess in so-called big time football and basketball" by co-chairing the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Both are well qualified to serve. Hesburgh's experience is set out in the chapter on sports at Notre Dame, "On the Playing Field." Its relevance to the current tenure of Lou Holz as well as to intercollegiate athletics will be appreciated by the reader.

"I am what I am: a Catholic priest.... I still appreciate belonging to everyone not just Catholics, and doing what I can to respond to human needs." Father Ted has made a big difference for God, Country, the World, and Notre Dame. He challenges the rest of us to make our contributions for whatever God or gods we may recognize, for our country, and for the institutions we serve.

Were there any surprises in the book? Initially surprising was Father Ted's boyish enthusiasm about planes. Yet those of us who grew up running to the classroom window to look at every plane should understand it, as should those who now take flying for granted. I'd like to be in that company when Father Ted says Mass in space. Perhaps I'd be asked to read the 1st or even the 2nd Lesson (King James version, of course) and I'd know enough not to say, "I'm not even a Catholic."

[The Montana Professor 1.2, Spring 1991 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

Contents | Home