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By Russell Shaw, Catholic Exchange, September 16, 2019
Two words are central to the story told in an important new biography of Father Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C. The words are complexity and assimilation. Complexity marked his long, distinguished career that included not only the presidency of Notre Dame but notable public service. Assimilation—integration into the mainstream secular culture—was a fundamental principle of both.
In his Hesburgh biography American Priest (Image), Notre Dame historian Father Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., writes that Father Hesburgh “poured out his energies”—which were prodigious–in service to God, country, and the university he loved. Yet the results were mixed: “His desire for greater independence from his religious order and from the institutional Church certainly shaped how he led the university. Ironically, however, he developed a virtual dependence on the regard and esteem of the liberal establishment in America.”
Born in 1917 in Syracuse, N.Y., Theodore Hesburgh entered the Congregation of the Holy Cross in 1934 and was ordained in 1943. Two years later he was assigned to teach theology at Notre Dame. In 1949 he was named executive vice president of the university and in 1952, at the relatively young age of 35, its president. He would occupy that position for 35 years and continued to live there, an iconic figure, until his death four years ago at the age of 97. ….