We lost an incredible person today. Father Ted Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame, died at 97. (NYT obituary)
Father Ted was not your typical priest or typical president of a University. Through a sense of humility and a belief in service to others, he left the world a far better place – through his own actions and in the continuing actions of those he touched.
Not only did he serve in two dozen White House appointments, including as chair of the United States Civil Rights Commission, he took Notre Dame from a small school known for Football to one of the more renowned universities in the world.
In the summer of 1974, Father Ted served mass and spoke to the the new students, me included, and their parents on the lawn of the Hesburgh Library (then known as the memorial library). My Mom, an Irish Catholic, had to proud as heck of having her only son going to the mecca of schools as far as she was concerned and listening to Ted Hesburgh in person.
Father Ted told the parents that their children would go on to change the world. There was nothing they would not be able to accomplish. They would be government leaders, corporate leaders, and so much more. Thinking back, if he had told us to walk across the water on the reflecting pond right then, I probably would have believed I could do it.
Afterwards Mom walked up to Father Ted to introduce herself and to let him know she expected him to take care of her son. He said he would. From that point on, I think Mom loved Notre Dame as much as Father Ted.
Father Ted worked in his office each night on the second floor of the administration building (golden dome) so that students could see his light on and stop up and talk anytime they wanted to. An incredibly approachable, though powerful person.
Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal a number of years ago, they asked why he regularly went out front of the administration building and took so much abuse from the protestors during the Viet Nam war. He told them you can only learn something from the people giving you a tough time, you don’t learn anything from the people giving you the attaboy’s telling you that you are doing a great job. I remember this every day and tell it to my team when they are taking a little flack.
Each time I return to Notre Dame, the most recent a month ago, I think of Father Ted in his office in the top of the Hesburgh Library and Mom meeting him out front. The two of them instilled in me the belief that I could accomplish anything I wanted to in service of others, a belief that carries me through the challenges of business and life.
God Bless Father Ted. And God Bless Mom.