SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who transformed the University of Notre Dame into an academic power during his 35 years as president, was remembered Wednesday as a world leader in social issues but someone whose main goal was helping people connect with God.
“Father Ted Hesburgh filled many roles throughout his life: spiritual leader, ally of popes and presidents, even representative to the International Atomic Energy Commission. But beyond any other title, the one he cherished the most was Father Ted, humble servant of God,” President Barack Obama said in a videotaped message played at a memorial tribute Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion on the campus in South Bend, Indiana.
The president, like many speakers, remembered Hesburgh as a man determined to do what was right.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who earned a master’s degree from Notre Dame, recalled her 40 years of friendship with Hesburgh and said she was spurred by him in her efforts to forge peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“Father Hesburgh understood you can’t accept the world as it is. You have to work for the world as it should be,” she said, speaking to the crowd of more than 9,000.
Former President Jimmy Carter recalled the years of advice he received from Hesburgh, their long friendship, and how he made the mistake in 1979 of asking Hesburgh if there was anything he could do for him. Hesburgh told Carter he wanted a ride on a SR-71 supersonic reconnaissance jet.
“I said, ‘Father Hesburgh, it’s not customary for civilians to ride on top-secret aircraft,'” Carter said. “He said, ‘That’s all right. I thought you were commander in chief.'”
Carter recalled how appreciative Hesburgh was for the ride.
During Hesburgh’s tenure as president, Notre Dame began allowing women to attend, enrollment doubled to 9,600 and the faculty tripled, the annual operating budget grew from $9.7 million to $176.6 million and the endowment grew from $9 million to $350 million.
While delivering the homily at a funeral Mass earlier Wednesday, the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s current president, said Hesburgh’s ministry was always his top priority.
“For all the momentous moments in which he played a role, all of the honors he received, Father Ted always said the most important day of his life was when he was ordained a priest here in this church,” Jenkins said.
About 1,000 people, including 120 priests, six bishops and two cardinals, attended the service at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the Notre Dame campus, which was aired on five South Bend area television stations.
Jim Hesburgh said his brother had two focuses in his life: the priesthood and devotion Notre Dame.
“Notre Dame prospered under his leadership and he left a legacy that we see all around us on this beautiful campus and in the wonderful Notre Dame family,” he said.
Jenkins said Hesburgh didn’t make decisions because they were easy or popular but because they were right.
“That shaped everything Father Ted did in the public realm,” he said.
Most of the people who attended the service walked behind the hearse that carried Hesburgh’s body to the Holy Cross Community Cemetery. Hundreds of students, staff, faculty and admirers lined the half-mile path the procession took through campus.
The university said more than 12,000 people attended the visitation for Hesburgh on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.