There are books worth reading, and then there are books worth sharing after you’ve read them. I heartily recommend the new book by Father Bill Miscamble, a Holy Cross Father, at the University of Notre Dame. It’s called American Priest, and it profiles the life and legacy of one of the most influential priests of the 20th century: Father Theodore Hesburgh, or as millions of Americans knew him, “Father Ted.”
The book is worth reading for many reasons, the first of which is its detailed and intimate look at Father Ted’s story. He was born in 1917 in Syracuse, New York to a modest Catholic family. From his earliest days, he wanted to be a priest. To the end of his life, he celebrated Mass and prayed his breviary daily.
Father Ted had a heart for justice. He supported the two greatest movements of the day: The civil rights movement and, somewhat less forcefully, the pro-life movement. But most of all, Father Ted had a heart for education, which he demonstrated over 35 years as president of the University of Notre Dame. He wanted to shape the minds of the rising generation, knowing as Pope Pius XI said, that “the soul of education is the education of the soul.”
The educational aspect is what I enjoyed the most. As a founder of two Catholic educational institutions and an avid supporter of lay apostolates, I was inspired by the prophetic vision of Fr. Ted toward Catholic higher education. As an aside, I also learned that Fr. Hesburgh earned his Master and Doctoral degrees at The Catholic University of America, where The Busch School of Business is housed.
While Notre Dame has existed for more than 150 years, Father Ted largely built the school into what it is today. I don’t have to explain what I mean because pretty much everyone knows about Notre Dame.
For my part, I’ve always been amazed at how the school keeps the attention and affection of its graduates. Our son, Garrett, class of 2009/2010, and daughter-in-law, Betsy, 2010/2011, both graduated from this University’s Mendoza College of Business. Their love of their alma mater borders on the rabid – and they’re far from alone.
When we attend Notre Dame football weekends and church life programs, we meet people of all ages – including many in their 80s – who continue to love the university. Many seem to love it more than they did when they were students there. Notre Dame may be better than any other school at giving its graduates and their families a lifelong experience.
That reflects directly on Father Ted’s influence – and the Catholic faith itself. At Notre Dame, students have tremendous opportunities to integrate into the Church. For example, they can celebrate Mass in the beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which Father Ted loved, or at one of over 60 chapels.
Those chapels inspired Steph and me to build the St. Michael Archangel Chapel in Maloney Hall at the Catholic University of America. It’s only the school’s third chapel. Like at Notre Dame, we hope this chapel will bring together students, faculty, and others to celebrate the Eucharist, which stands at the core of who we are as Catholics.
As our experience shows, Father Ted’s work and witness inspire people to this day, including many of us who never attended Notre Dame. That is why, like many other Catholics, we pray that the school’s leaders will maintain and strengthen that school’s foundation of faith, which many worry is beginning to show cracks. The Notre Dame that Father Ted built is truly unique and must always stand as a light in the darkness.
American Priest can you help you understand why Notre Dame is what it is and why it matters. It will also introduce you to the life of a truly interesting man.
Father Miscamble’s biography of Father Theodore Hesburgh is fair and unvarnished. It notes both his strengths and his limitations. Whether you’re affiliated with Notre Dame or not, I think you’ll enjoy it. It may also help you become more effective in the ministries that you support, lead, or found, whether in education, lay apostolates, or elsewhere.
You can buy the book on Amazon. You can also buy the audiobook, which is what I did. Whether you read it or listen to it, you won’t regret it. And like me, you may even share it with others.
Tim Busch is founder
of the Napa Institute, a Catholic lay apostolate preparing Catholics for this
America, co-founder of the Napa Legal Institute with John C. Peiffer a graduate
of Notre Dame Law School, and co-founder of the Magis Reason and Faith Center
with Fr. Robert J. Spitzer. S.J.
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