Under the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh’s 35-year tenure as president of the University of Notre Dame, the school emerged as a highly regarded institution of higher learning. He liberalized the rules of student life, opened the campus to women, and, in the interest of protecting academic freedom, led the transfer of university control from the Catholic Church to a lay board of trustees.
Born May 25, 1917 in Syracuse, N.Y., Hesburgh joined the Order of the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1934, and was ordained a priest in 1943. In 1945, he was assigned to teach religion and serve as chaplain at Notre Dame. He was promoted to head of the religion department in 1948, and to executive vice president a year later. When he assumed his role as president at age 35 in 1952, he was the youngest in Notre Dame’s history.
Hesburgh has served on more than 50 government commissions – including a pivotal role on the Civil Rights Commission – and more than two dozen boards of trustees, with involvement in such organizations as the National Science Foundation, the United Negro College Fund, and the American Council on Education. He co-chaired, with University of North Carolina President Emeritus William Friday, the Knight Commission which studied the effects of business on collegiate athletics. He has also received more than 138 honorary degrees.