Professor William V. D’Antonio of the Catholic University of America takes time to reflect on the life and legacy of Father Ted Hesburgh. It was reprinted with permission from the website of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, The Catholic University of America, from March 12, 2015.
Two close friends notified me by email Friday Morning, February 27, of Fr. Hesburgh's death the night before on Thursday evening, February 26; he was 97 years old. They knew from our many conversations how much I had admired him, and they knew that he had had a major impact on my life, and also on that of my wife Lorraine and of our children. As I thought about it I realized that Fr. Ted as just about everyone knew and called him, had changed my life. While chatting with Dr. Schneck (Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies) about Fr. Ted, he suggested that I write a reflection or a Memoriam or a Paean to him. So the following constitutes " A Reflection” on the life of a University president who in the course of 12 years not only transformed the University of Notre Dame, but also had supported me and my work as a sociologist, and then as Department Chair. In the process, without being conscious of how much he was changing the direction of my life, things just seemed to happen.
My decision to leave the Sociology and Anthropology Department of Michigan State University in 1959 was the direct result of my belief that Fr. Hesburgh, then in his 7th year as President of the University of Notre Dame, was serious in his commitment to build a strong social science program, one that would include sociology and anthropology, as part of creating a university that would rank among the elite in its academic programs across the board, demonstrating that religion and academic excellence could be compatible. My M.S. U. colleagues at all ranks warned me that the move to Notre Dame would be a dead-end trap, that my future was bright at MSU. The decision of the new pope John XXIII to call for a second Vatican Council was seen by my MSU colleagues as nothing but a reiteration of Vatican I and the papal claims of infallibility. In my mind I linked Pope John XXIII and Fr. Hesburgh as opening doors and windows, and I decided to take a leap of faith. At the same time, Notre Dame offered me smaller classes, and only three rather than four courses each semester (the MSU requirement for the non-tenured faculty), and the chance to teach graduate courses (which MSU agreed could be arranged in time). And Notre Dame offered me a salary increase that MSU did finally agree to match.
In my first meeting with Fr. Ted in the Fall of 1959, he joked about having told his friend MSU President John Hannah that he had stolen me away when President Hannah was not looking. I was both pleased and surprised at his casual and open manner, and that he could have had such a conversation with President Hannah in a friendly way.
At the opening faculty meeting of 1959, Fr. Ted spelled out the goals for the next couple of years. The big news was that Notre Dame had just received a challenge Grant from the Ford Foundation. He made the strong point that the money would be used to build a 12 or 13 story library which would include faculty offices, etc., and be a direct sign of the university’s commitment to academic excellence. The Library had priority over a new Field House. That was the take-off for the university and all the faculty who were ready, willing and able to move with him. The original Ford Grant was matched in record time, and then exceeded, to be followed by an even larger Challenge Grant that was met and surpassed in record time.
Thus it was that Fr. Ted and the Holy Cross priests who were among the new dynamic faculty, or in administrative positions that opened new doors of opportunity, either by their contacts, their access to funds for research that had them becoming active in Latin America, helped me and the Dept. to find new areas in which to expand our research interests.
1963 and 1964 were particularly exciting years, as they revealed a variety of ways that Fr. Ted was both providing support and providing new contacts. One of his most important additions to the University administration was the appointment of Dr. George Shuster as Special Assistant to the President.. Dr. Shuster had been president of Hunter College, and had been one of the early leaders of the Catholic Journal of Opinion, Commonweal. Dr. Fred Pike (History) and I thought a major Conference on Changes in Latin America would be significant, and Dr. Shuster procured a $10,000 Grant for us, enabling us to invite a host of outstanding scholars and Political leaders including Professor Emilio Willems of Brazil, and Senator Eduardo Frei Montalvo, who was soon to be elected President of Chile. The Grant enabled us to bring together a mix of academic and political leaders, leading to the Conference and then book title Religion, Revolution, and Reform: New Forces for Change in Latin America. One of the most important agents of change was the emergence of new leaders like Senator Frei, who combined his commitment to Democracy with his commitment to social justice. Another emerging force was the Evangelical Protestant movement, whose impact continues.
1963 also saw the new beginning of the Papal Birth Control Commission. Again, with significant grants from Ford and Rockefeller, Notre Dame was able to bring together a mix of scholars including theologians, philosophers, medical doctors, and social scientists, and I found myself slowly becoming a scholar activist. Our Committee on Population Growth and Responsible Parenthood worked closely with the Papal Commission, with key members of both, sharing and exchanging critical papers on the central issues that were at the core of the Papal Commission’s charge. And my interest in sociology of the family and demography grew rapidly. Eventually, it culminated in a book Families and Religions, again made possible by a Notre Dame grant.
In the Spring of 1964 we learned that Governor George Wallace of Alabama was heading north to begin his campaign for the presidency, and he announced that So. Bend would be his first stop. We consulted with Fr. Ted about the Governor's opposition to the integration of schools, his general racist behavior, and whether the faculty might activate some kind of protest. Fr. Ted said he could not take an active part, but that if we were to do a careful critique of Wallace’s principles and policies, he would be quietly supportive. We did a tremendous amount of research on the inequality of school support, how poorly the Negroes were treated in Alabama, and all that Wallace had done to deny Negroes a chance at equal opportunity; as a result, when Negroes came north, they discovered how far behind the levels of education and job skills they were. We prepared a well-documented report on Governor Wallace’s “segregation forever” policies , then circulated it to the faculty, with more than 500 of the then 600+ faculty signing it. By a strategic maneuver, we were interviewed by the press an hour before Gov. Wallace, and we received more TV time on NBC, CBS and ABC, than did the Governor. And I received the first “hate letters” of my life.
1964 also marked the tenth anniversary of the Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education: A group of faculty got together to see what we might do to honor the 1954 Supreme Court Decision which declared separate but equal schooling, separate but not equal, and thus unconstitutional. We went to the mayor of So. Bend, a cautious man, and he urged us not to march, that a march would only cause trouble, as demonstrated by all the troubles seen nightly on TV screens. If we did have a march, he would not participate. So we went to Fr. Ted, and he thought honoring the Brown Decision was a great idea, and he would be willing to speak. Then we went to the owner of the So. Bend Tribune and asked him if he would be the Master of Ceremonies if Fr. Hesburgh spoke, and he said yes. The result was a peaceful parade of whites and blacks, led by the Holy Cross Fathers and seminarians, and Fr. Ted gave a great talk, which received wide coverage in the press, radio and TV.
Also in the spring of 1964, with support from the Notre Dame Committee on Population and Responsible Parenthood, I made the first public presentation about the work of the Committee, making clear that our findings were moving toward support for change in the Church’s teachings on contraception. Again, the Holy Cross administrators were quietly supportive. The talk was published in the then Catholic Reporter of Kansas City.
Sometime in 1965 a priest at Notre Dame urged me to form a Catholic Committee on Population and Government Policy. When I asked why, the priest told me that a law professor from Georgetown U. Law School had prepared a Brief that asserted that “as long as human life and parental rights are safeguarded, and no coercion or pressure is exerted against individual moral choice,” the government may offer birth control information and assistance.” (NYTimes, May 11, 1966,p. 34.) I was given all the financial support I needed, and was helped with creation of an Executive Committee. We put ads in Commonweal, America, and the then Catholic Reporter, and 517 Catholics signed on, including 4 law school deans, and several Catholic Medical School officials. I appeared with Fr. Dexter Manley, the Law Professor from Georgetown who had written the Brief, before the Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower and Poverty of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare on May 10, 1966; The New York Times declared that the key witnesses in support of the legislation to provide funding for Family Planning Clinics were the Law Professor from Georgetown and the Notre Dame professor (N.Y.Times, May 11, 1966, p.34). The Bill became law in November, 1966, with first funding occurring in 1967.
Sometime during 1967, Fr. Ted called to tell me that Mrs. Ernestine Carmichael, wife of the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, was planning to establish a Family Planning Center in the city of So. Bend, and might appreciate some help in locating where it would be of most help. I met with Mrs. Carmichael, and was able to help her and her committee to locate the St. Joseph County Family Planning Center. As a token of appreciation, Mrs. Carmichael made the family lodge with some 16 guest rooms, available to me for annual meetings with colleagues whose interest in the sociology of religion was providing new opportunities for research and teaching.
1966-67: Fr Ted told me had had been talking with Dr. Andy Greeley, and that Andy had indicated he would like to join the ND faculty; Fr. Ted authorized me to bring Andy to ND. I called Andy, told him how we would love to have him come aboard as an assoc. professor; Andy demanded a full professorship; at that point Andy had not even been an Asst. Prof. anywhere; I explained that we had two Assoc. Profs with publ. records as good as Andy’s and with excellent teaching records, and I could not in good conscience bring him in as a full professor ahead of these two. Andy appealed to Peter Rossi (his advisor at U Chi), and I explained the situation to Peter and told him I would not go beyond the Assoc. Prof. level. Andy also appealed to Hesburgh, and when Fr.Ted called and I explained, Fr. Ted said it is your decision, and I will support whatever you decide. So I stuck to my decision, and my relationship with Andy was strained for several years. Andy eventually held joint appointments at the U. of Arizona and the National Opinion Research Center, from which the discipline and many sociologists benefited.
On July 30,1968, Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae; I was in Innsbruck, Austria in the last week of teaching in a summer course run by ND and funded by the U.S. federal government. When I read the Encyclical and the follow-up, including the rebellious behavior of some 60 or more theologians, led by Fr. Charlie Curran, I issued a statement on behalf of the Catholic Committee on Population and Government Policy stating our support for the young theologians led by Curran and our rejection of the Encyclical. I then proceeded with our family to spend a week as tourists in Paris and another week in London before flying back to the USA. When we finally arrived back in So. Bend, in early September, my department secretary told me Fr. Hesburgh had called, and that I should call him as soon as I returned. So I did and he invited me to his office. There he showed me some mail from alumni who had been listening to Paul Harvey, the conservative radio commentator, who informed his public of my opposition to Humanae Vitae. ; these alumni wanted to know why I was allowed to chair the Sociology and Anthropology Dept.; they wanted to know how I dared to question the pope’s Encyclical. Fr. Ted showed me the letter he had written and wanted me to check it over before he responded to these alumni. . He reminded the writers that the Encyclical was not a dogmatic statement, that the pope himself had expressed his desire that people read it with care, etc, and that I was a sociologist expressing my concerns about the impact of Pope Paul’s Encyclical. He also gave me copies of the correspondence he had received as well as his response, which I keep as important reminders of his academic leadership.
On other occasions he called to help sociologists who were being harassed in various countries in Latin America. One example was a sociologist in Argentina (Jose Miggens) who was being harassed by the military for some of his work, and Fr. Ted wondered if we could invite him to be a visiting professor for a semester or two, all expenses paid. We agreed and Professor Miggens spent several successful semesters at Notre Dame because of his research and teaching ability.
In March of 1970 I became Executive. Secretary of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, with Fr. Joseph Fichter, SJ, its president. It had been in financial difficulty, and within a month, I became aware that the society was in debt about $22,000, and we were about to have no cash flow to help pay immediate bills. So I went to Fr. Ted and told him of our financial situation, and that I needed $5,000 to have sufficient cash flow to keep going for another year, by which time in-house changes would help us wipe out the debt. He produced the $5,000 check in less than a week, with no request for a payback. And we were out of debt within a year due to the skill and actions taken by the Society’s new business manager, who remained on the job for 29 years before retiring. For Fr. Ted it was a small matter, for the SSSR, it made all the difference.
In his work on civil rights, Fr. Ted had become a vocal critic of the way Hispanics had been treated in various parts of the Southwest. With his help I received a grant of $20,000 to bring a group of undergraduate and graduate students to carry out a study of life in the town of Fabens, TX, about 30 miles from El Paso. At the time Fabens was about 80 percent Hispanic and 20% Anglos. Our study was published in the 1970-71 year, and caused a furor with the Anglos in Fabens and El Paso. They accused us of stirring up trouble, of being Communists, and other un- American things. Our research showed how Hispanic children were not able to belong to Boy and Girl Scout troops, and Hispanics were excluded from Fourth of July and other major celebrations. For almost a month the El Paso times ran columns containing the Anglos accusations, and our evidence thoroughly refuting their claims. However, we were threatened with a lawsuit if we did not remove a section of charges made against one family that we could not back with hard data. Fr. Ted said he believed our charge because it fit with the experience of his work with the Civil Rights Commission, but he also said that we had failed to produce the evidence necessary to make it stick in print, so he sent me to the Notre Dame lawyer to help me make a proper and legal apology. Which I did.
During my twelve years at Notre Dame, the Department grew in size from 7 to 16 members, 30 undergraduates went on to earn phds in sociology and/or anthropology, and our own program sent forth a group of phds dedicated to teaching and research that led them to appointments in places like Purdue, Kansas, UCOON, University of Portland, U. of West VA, etc.
My interest in family and population growth, first in Latin America and then world-wide would probably never have developed elsewhere. Fr. Ted changed my life, enabled me and my colleagues to build a department that was nationally ranked by 1971, with strong foci in religion, Latin America, family, Hispanic Studies, demography, and social change. I found Fr. Ted willing to talk openly on just about any subject, and I found him to be very much a progressive leader who never flinched, never gave in to threats, and kept his word when he said he wanted to have a strong, nationally recognized sociology and anthropology program, and never flinched when we asked for a new appointment to fill a need, and provided the funds needed to bring in distinguished speakers.
Fr. Ted changed my life, strengthened my beliefs in matters ranging from the need for massive social change in Latin America, to making our sociology/anthropology department a part of, NOT APART FROM, the national scene. We were able to add at least one new faculty member every year, we were provided funds to bring in speakers to talk about population growth; when I talked about Population growth and its implications in Latin America, I found support from the CSC clergy who were close with him, and developing their own mix of social justice and research.
Were the space to allow, I would place here the statement prepared in 1970 by the Executive Council of the Notre Dame Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, of which I was then the President, that led the National Office of the AAUP to select Fr. Hesburgh as the 12th recipient of the Alexander Meiklejohn Award. The Award was given annually to a university administrator or trustee “in recognition of an outstanding contribution to the cause of academic freedom.” The nomination must come from a college or university AAUP Chapter.
Fr. Ted was unhappy with my decision to leave Notre Dame, and asked on several occasions to review my decision, which I did, and again he understood.
We last sat and chatted in his smoke-filled office on the 13th floor of the Hesburgh Library, in April 2009. I was on campus to provide the inaugural address for the Graduate Student Award to the most outstanding student of the year in the Center for the Study of Religion and Society. After we chatted a bit about the lives of my family members, our conversation drifted back to Pope Paul VI, Vatican II, and Humanae Vitae. We agreed that the inner structure of the Vatican at that time was too strong for Paul VI to contend with Yes, Humanae Vitae was a great disappointment to us, but the world moves on, and Fr. Ted was eager to tell me how much he was looking forward to the 2009 Notre Dame Commencement, and to the honor of having President Barack Obama as the Commencement Speaker.
That Notre Dame is one of the country’s leading universities in both teaching and research is the direct result of Fr. Ted’s beliefs and values as a Catholic priest, and his ability to make manifest those beliefs and values in just about every role he played, for the government, with other university presidents, with students, and with his faculty. Fr. Ted’s passing on February 26, 2015 made me reflect more deeply than I had ever done before about how, amid all of those other commitments , he found the time to profoundly affect individuals like myself, in important ways changing my life, as an academic, an administrator, and as a Catholic.
[Note from Christopher Hale: This essay was originally published without proper attribution to the original source. CACG sincerely apologies for the oversight and will work to make sure it doesn't happen again.]