Hesburgh ‘first and foremost’ a priest

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Sure, his sterling leadership in higher education comes to mind as we praise God for Fr. Hesburgh’s life; how could we ever forget his prophetic voice in civil rights, international justice and peace, nuclear disarmament, and the dignity of the unborn and the immigrant? Then again, we recall his writing and speaking, his voice in the public square and of course, we will never forget his epic service at Our Lady’s University.

The litany of his accomplishments and our reasons to thank God for him are lengthy, but what towers above them all would be his priesthood.

Ted Hesburgh was first and foremost, from crown to toes, a Catholic priest.

No one can read his autobiography without sensing his joy in being a priest: daily mass, the divine office, visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, love of the Mother of Jesus, his loyalty to the successors of St. Peter, his bond to his spouse, the Church — we all called him “Father,” the title he cherished most. In his mind, the Medal of Freedom and 150 honorary degrees he was awarded shrink in comparison to his vocation.

In the hours after his passing, we all reminisced about the impact he had on us. What most of us recall most would be his priestly touch: the Masses offered in basilicas, alleys and huts all over the world, the sermons preached, the babies christened, the fallen-away coaxed back into the arms of Holy Mother Church, the infirm anointed, confessions heard, couples united in marriage, the friends buried.

When all is said and done, he was — even more than educator, reformer, political consultant, civil rights leader, international relief worker, and ecumenical friend — all this and more because he was above it all, a faithful priest.

Requiescat in pace


Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan

Archbishop of New York