Father Ted keeps up

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Saturday 20, October 2007 | Category:   Clergy

Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh, the 90-year-old president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, can’t see much anymore, though graduate students still keep him up on current events by reading him the newspapers every day in his office. So he might have had some trouble watching his portrait go up last Tuesday at a ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery.

The photo is not just any portrait. It depicts him hand in hand with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at a rally in Chicago’s Soldier Field celebrating the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Father Ted, as he is known, chaired the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which helped to pass the act by documenting how the voting rights of African Americans were denied.

The civil rights commission was one of 16 presidential commissions on which Hesburgh served during both Democratic and Republican administrations, working on issues from civil rights to Middle East peace to nuclear arms control.

His legendary ability to bring people together was a decisive factor in his effectiveness. He reached agreement on the civil rights commission’s recommendations by taking the commissioners on a fishing trip to Wisconsin. As the Vatican’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Hesburgh invited two personal friends from the Soviet and American delegations to a successful meeting in his hotel suite. “Just buzz me if you need anything,” Hesburgh told them.

Father Ted served as president of Notre Dame for 35 years—longer than any other college or university president in the U.S.

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