Theodore M. Hesburgh

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Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., is president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame.

"In July 2000, Father Hesburgh's public service career was recognized when he became the first person from higher education to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives gathered in the rotunda of the Capitol as President Clinton presented the medal. Father Hesburgh has held 16 presidential appointments over the years - most recently to the Commission on Presidential Scholars - and they involved him in virtually all major social issues - civil rights, peaceful uses of atomic energy, campus unrest, treatment of Vietnam offenders, and Third World development and immigration reform, to name only a few. At the same time, he remained a national leader in the field of education, serving on many commissions and study groups. As recently as 1999, he made a fact-finding tour of refugee camps around Kosovo for the United Nations, and he was called on periodically as a member of the Anti-Incitement Committee established by the Wye Plantation Treaty to deal with Palestinian-Israeli tensions in the Middle East.

"Within the academy, he served as chairman of the International Federation of Catholic Universities from 1963 to 1970 and led a movement to redefine the nature and mission of the contemporary Catholic university, drawing heavily on the experience of Catholic institutions of higher learning in the United States. His stature as an elder statesman in American higher education is reflected in his 150 honorary degrees (as of May 2004), the most ever awarded to one person. He was the first priest elected to the Board of Overseers at Harvard University and served two years (1994-95) as president of the board. Father Hesburgh also cochaired from 1990 to 1996 the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, an influential advocate for reforms in college sports.

"Notre Dame's president emeritus has served four Popes, three as permanent Vatican City representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna from 1956 to 1970. At the request of Pope Paul VI, he built in 1972 the Ecumenical Institute at Tantur, Jerusalem, which Notre Dame continues to operate. Paul VI also appointed him head of the Vatican representatives attending the 20th anniversary of the UN's human rights declaration in Teheran, Iran, in 1968, and six years later a member of the Holy See's United Nations delegation. In 1983 Father Hesburgh was appointed by Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Council for Culture, charged with finding ways in which the saving message of the Gospel could be preached effectively in the world's variegated cultures.

"Justice has been the focus of many of his outside involvements. He was a charter member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, created in 1957, and he chaired the commission from 1969 to 1972, when President Nixon replaced him as chairman because of his criticism of the administration's civil rights record. Father Hesburgh was a member of President Ford's Presidential Clemency Board, charged with deciding the fate of various groups of Vietnam offenders. His work on these commissions led to the creation at Notre Dame Law School of the Center of Civil and Human Rights.

"In 1971 he joined the board of the Overseas Development Council, a private organization supporting interests of the underdeveloped world, and chaired it until 1982. During this time, he led fund-raising efforts that averted mass starvation in Cambodia in 1979-80. Between 1979 and 1981 he also chaired the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, the recommendations of which became the basis of Congressional reform legislation five years later. He was involved during the 1980s in a private initiative which sought to unite internationally known scientists and world religious leaders in condemning nuclear weapons. He helped organize a 1982 meeting in Vatican City of 58 world class scientists, from East as well as West, who called for the elimination of nuclear weapons and subsequently brought together in Vienna leaders of six faith traditions who endorsed the view of these scientists. His global perspective was the impetus for the establishment on campus of the Kellogg Institute for International Studies and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

"In addition to the Congressional Gold Medal, Father Hesburgh received the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. He also has received numerous awards from education groups, among them the prestigious Meiklejohn Award of the American Association of University Professors in 1970. This award, which honors those who uphold academic freedom, recognized Father Hesburgh's crucial role in blunting the attempt of the Nixon Administration in 1969 to use federal troops to quell campus disturbances.

"On more than one occasion, Father Hesburgh found himself the first Catholic priest to serve in a given position. Such was the case during the years he was a director of the Chase Manhattan Bank and a trustee (later, chairman) of the Rockefeller Foundation. Also, his appointment as ambassador to the 1979 UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development was the first time a priest had served in a formal diplomatic role for the U.S. government.

"...Father Hesburgh was born May 25, 1917, in Syracuse, N.Y., the son of Anne Murphy Hesburgh and Theodore Bernard Hesburgh, an executive of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. A brother, James, was graduated from Notre Dame in 1955 and lives in Edwards, Colo. Notre Dame's president emeritus has a sister, Mrs. Robert O'Neill, who resides in Cazenovia, N.Y." [1]


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  1. Directors, War and Peace Foundation, accessed January 8, 2009.
  2. United Nations Items-in-Secretary-General's Statements, organizational web page, accessed May 4, 2012.
  3. About, American Forum for Global Education, accessed December 24, 2007.
  4. About, Committee of 100 for Tibet, accessed March 19, 2008.
  5. Advisory Council, International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, accessed August 26, 2008.
  6. 2007 Annual Report, Technoserve, accessed February 20, 2010.
  7. Advisory Board, Opportunity International, accessed July 3, 2010.

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