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The tragic Fr. Ted Hesburgh

September 16, 2019

This Saturday, September 14, 2019, I addressed the subject of the loss of faith and attempts to sustain religious faith at Protestant and Catholic colleges. I mentioned in my remarks an organization of Catholics disaffected by the religious order that founded the University of Notre Dame. Today, Sycamore Trust founder, Bill Dempsey, calls my attention to a review of a biography of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh who, for many years, was President of the University of Notre Dame and strove to remake Notre Dame into a “great” university.

Fr. Wilson D. Miscamble, CSC, the author of this biography, a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, was admonished for criticism of the direction that Notre Dame has been taken and directed to cease his criticism.  Catholic priests play hardball when their livelihood is jeopardized.

I entered the graduate Department of Government at Notre Dame in January 1965, after working on the campaign for President of Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and found the intellectual home that I had longed for during the four years I was an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh.  The Pitt Panthers had an excellent football season in ’63 under coach Johnny Mickelosen with Mike Ditka and other “Greats” on his winning teams.   What I did not anticipate was Ara Parseghian’s football team at Notre Dame that would make those dark and wet Winter Saturdays much brighter than most Winter days in South Bend, Indiana.

During my days at Notre Dame I had the opportunity to take the measure of Ted Hesburgh who set about to make Notre Dame into a great research university.  He began by dismissing Fr. Stanley Parry, CSC, from his position as Chairman of the Government Department and replacing him with a typical Liberal political scientist whose specialization was Latin American politics. He in turn brought aboard his Department other political scientists who could be found at any  number of “great” research  universities.

Fr. Stanley Parry, CSC, was a student of Willmore Kendall at Yale and became a much-admired friend of William F. Buckley and, though given limited resources, hired émigrés escaping Hungary, Germany and other countries blighted by Hitler and Mussolini. Thus in my first semester I was in seminars with Gerhart Niemeyer, Eric Voegelin and Fr. Parry. Voegelin and Niemeyer were not Catholic.

To be honest, the Government Department in 1965 was small and largely serviced degree candidates from other Catholic religious orders who were seeking advanced degrees. Some graduate students in the Government Department were graduates of Notre Dame and a few came from one of the best undergraduate Catholic college of the day–Assumption College.

I, raised as a Missouri Synod Lutheran, was there because Fr. Parry was a political conservative and I was followed by two other Goldwater alumni.

The Catholic church and Notre Dame were in transition. I recall speaking with a young seminarian who told me he wanted a secular education. By the time Ted Hesburgh completed his task making Notre Dame “great,” that seminarian did not have to leave Notre Dame for a secular education.

Protestant colleges have the same problems,  if they seek to remain faithful to the ministry of John Wesley, John Calvin or Martin Luther –and most fail. Catholics have a more difficult problem because in 1931 Pope Pius XI changed the direction of Catholic theology by affirming Social Justice as a goal of Christ’s Church and the Christian life.

“Quadragesimo Anno,” effectively transferred the souls of the faithful to a form of activism in this life and away from salvation in life after death.  In doing this, Pius XI dumped St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas into the equivalent of a Catholic dustbin and opened the door to sanctification of modern ideologies that seek a utopian world,

Fr. Hesburhgh was more influenced by the “modern” Catholicism of “Quadragesimo Anno” though he published a book on Thomism.

That clear mistake by a 20th century Pope–and the practice of admitting  homosexuals into the Catholic priesthood–has brought the “Roman” Catholic  Church into compatibility with Modernity and the greatness that Fr. Hesburgh sought.

Because I believe that the Church and its Sacraments are a gift granted us by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I do not despair. In His own time, God will rectify even these mistakes and make his Church and Notre Dame university truly great.


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