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Notre Dame students glimpse Hesburgh’s legacy by office tour

May 26, 2017

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Inside the office of the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, on the 13th floor of the University of Notre Dame campus library that bears his name, is a scene frozen in time.

Little has changed in the room since Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s president for 35 years and a major player on the world stage, left his office for the last time in winter 2015.

On his desk lies a wooden crucifix, a magnifying glass, a bottle of holy water and an oval framed photograph of his mother. There’s a letter opener, a metal shamrock paperweight and a prayer card from the funeral Mass of the Rev. Edmund Joyce, his longtime vice president. An unsmoked cigar sits in an ashtray.

It’s like he just stepped out of the room for a moment.

Thursday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Hesburgh, who died Feb. 26, 2015, at age 97.

Hesburgh was born May 25, 1917, in Syracuse, New York. He was ordained a Holy Cross priest in 1943 and served as Notre Dame’s president for 35 years, from 1952 to 1987.

As president, Hesburgh vastly increased Notre Dame’s academic profile and led the change that in 1972 made the university coeducational. Appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1957, Hesburgh helped compile reports on racial discrimination and the denial of voting rights that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He counseled presidents and popes. He also was a champion of other causes, including education, immigration reform, eliminating world hunger and the plight of underdeveloped nations.

And Hesburgh continues to serve as a role model for the latest generation of Notre Dame students. Since his death, his office has become a learning space for young undergraduates, most of whom never had a chance to meet the famous priest.

A visit to Hesburgh’s office suite has been integrated into the university’s Moreau First Year Experience program, a two-semester seminar designed to help freshmen acclimate to college life. As part of the Moreau seminar, about 1,600 first-year students this year participated in the part of the program that allowed them to visit the office and learn about Hesburgh’s life and legacy.

Notre Dame student Anna Kluender, of Mitchell, Indiana, just completed her freshman year.

During the Moreau seminar, her class visited Hesburgh’s office, watched a short video about Hesburgh’s life, and learned about the impact he had on the university and the world. Each student then is encouraged to sit at Hesburgh’s desk and state aloud what impact he or she would like to have to be a force for good in the world.

That’s a powerful moment, Kluender said. “I said I will fight for those who need it most, because (Hesburgh) reached out to everyone, especially those who needed it most,” she said.

Kluender, who said she knew little about Hesburgh before she enrolled at Notre Dame, participated in the seminar this spring. The visit to Hesburgh’s office was something she’ll long remember. “It felt like I was meeting him after his death,” she said.

Notre Dame student John Staud, from Granger, never had the chance to meet Hesburgh, but has strong memories of attending the memorial service for the longtime Notre Dame president.

Staud participated in the Moreau seminar this spring. His class visited Hesburgh’s office and learned about Hesburgh’s role in the civil rights movement, his friendship with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., his role in opening Notre Dame to women undergraduates and other achievements. Staud said he learned a lot.

“It was under Father Hesburgh that Notre Dame became a world-class university,” he said. “He’s one of the most important men in Notre Dame history.”

Hesburgh was born in the same year and four days before another famous American Catholic, President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy, slain at age 46, remains forever young in the nation’s mind, while Hesburgh lived another half century, becoming an elder statesman and staying active in world affairs well into his 90s.

All four walls of Hesburgh’s office are lined with shelves, holding hundreds of books, as well as artworks, photographs and artifacts from his career and world travels.

Each seminar class that visits Hesburgh’s office has the chance to meet someone who knew and worked closely with the priest over the years.

One of those people is Marty Ogren, who served as Hesburgh’s primary driver for almost 40 years. That duty included one final trip: driving the hearse that carried Hesburgh’s coffin after the funeral from Sacred Heart Basilica to his final resting place in Holy Cross Community Cemetery.

When Notre Dame contacted Ogren (who retired in December) and asked him if he’d be willing to staff Hesburgh’s office and share with students his memories of Hesburgh, he gladly agreed. He met with 48 separate groups of freshmen during April and May.

“What an honor. What an experience,” Ogren said, recounting how emotional some students find the visit. “It touches them. It has to be the fact that we’re sitting in his office. If we did the class in a classroom setting, it wouldn’t have the effect it has,” he said.

“Students certainly need to know the legacy Father Hesburgh created,” Ogren said.

Last week, the office was open for several hours each day for graduating seniors to visit. The students looked at his books, sat at his desk and took photos of themselves with the Golden Dome-topped Main Building as a backdrop through the west window.

For most of the students, it was their first-ever visit.

Graduating senior Annette Sayre had the chance to meet Hesburgh during her freshman year, when he spoke to her biology class about his efforts to combat global hunger. It was a memorable experience, she said, as was singing in the choir at Hesburgh’s funeral Mass and at the public memorial service.

Bridgid Smith, another senior, moved slowly around the room, examining the artifacts of Hesburgh’s life. “The things he did for Notre Dame made it possible for me to have such a wonderful education. He was such a respected man,” she said.

Notre Dame junior Matt Gambetta also stopped by for a tour. He said when he enrolled at Notre Dame, he didn’t know much about the elderly Hesburgh. “At his death, I came to understand his legacy here and how influential a figure he was,” Gambetta said. “I never had the opportunity to meet him. I regret that.”

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Source: South Bend Tribune, http://bit.ly/2qnPX9d

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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