Theodore Hesburgh

Most Popular

Syracuse, New York
Birth Sign
Syracuse, New York

The Reverend Theodore Hesburgh was a prominent international figure who, through his foresight and dedication to quality, accomplished his aim of establishing a really outstanding Catholic university for the modern world. From the moment he was born, he was ordained a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. He enrolled at Notre Dame in 1934 and has been there ever since, with the exception of a brief period when he travelled to Italy to get his baccalaureate degree. In 1949, he was elected to serve as the University of Notre Dame’s executive vice president, a position he held for three years. He eventually ascended to the position of President of Notre Dame and assumed the responsibilities that came with it. He steered, pressed, and pushed the institution to move forward and explore its limits over his 35 years in the prestigious position, the longest to date, in order to accomplish his objective of making it the world’s best Catholic Institute in the modern world. He was one of the most powerful forces in the American higher education system and a highly recognized figure in the Catholic Church during and after his tenure as President of Notre Dame. He served on a number of foundations and commissions, as well as working with a number of popes and US presidents, in addition to his role as President of Notre Dame.

Childhood and Adolescence

Theodore Hesburgh was born in Syracuse, New York, to Anne Murphy and Theodore Bernard Hesburgh. He was the youngest of four siblings, with one brother and three sisters.

He enrolled at Notre Dame in 1934. His seminary, however, dispatched him to Italy three years later. In 1939, he graduated from Gregorian University with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
He returned to Notre Dame after the onset of World War II and was ordained a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross at Sacred Heart Church in 1943.

Despite volunteering to serve as a military chaplain, he was instead moved to the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, where he earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology in 1945.

Career of Theodore Hesburgh

Following the completion of his doctorate, he began teaching in the University’s Department of Religion. He became the head of the Department of Theology in 1948.

He was appointed executive vice president of the University the following year, a position he held for three years. In 1952, he resigned to take on the responsibilities of President of Notre Dame, making him the 15thby rank and order.
During his time as President of Notre Dame, he made significant modifications to the university’s day-to-day operations in order to bring it up to pace with the world’s greatest educational institutions.

He not only doubled the university’s operating budget, but also increased endowment and research support by 40% and 20%, respectively. The tremendous rise resulted in a twofold increase in enrolment and degrees conferred.
In 1957, he was named to the United States Civil Rights Commission as a member. He was appointed to Chairman in 1967, a position he held for five years before being fired by US President Richard Nixon in 1972.

He was the chairman of the International Federation Catholic Universities from 1963 until 1970.
In 1967, while serving as President of Notre Dame, he made a number of reforms to the university’s governance.

He pioneered undergraduate coeducation in 1972, which was unheard of at the time. As a result, Notre Dame became the first university in the United States to admit female students to its bachelor programs.
He played a key role in the American higher education system, taking part in every major initiative and dealing with the subject. During the Vietnam War and against college protestors, he stood firm, supporting the rights of others.

He served on a number of government commissions, non-profit organization boards, and Vatican missions in addition to being the President of Notre Dame.
Pope Paul VI named him as a member of the Holy See’s United Nations Delegations in 1974. He was also appointed to the Clemency Board of the Presidency. ‘The Humane Imperative: A Challenge for the Year 2000’ was published the same year.

He was the head of the Rockefeller Foundation from 1977 until 1982.
He was selected as the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development’s ambassador in 1979. ‘The Hesburgh Papers: Higher Values in Higher Education’ was released the same year.

He chaired the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy for two years, from 1979 to 1981.
Pope John Paul II named him to the Pontifical Council for Culture in 1983. He founded the Institute for International Peace Studies two years later.

He stepped down as President of Notre Dame in 1987 after 35 years of service, making him the longest-serving President in the university’s history.
His autobiography, ‘God, Country, Notre Dame,’ was published in 1990 and reached No. 11 on the New York Times best-seller list.

He has been actively interested in concerns of American higher education after his resignation from the distinguished office. From 1990 to 1996, he co-chaired the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, and from 1994 to 1995, he served on the Harvard Board of Overseers.

Achievements & Awards

He was named Honorary Member of the Austrian catholic fraternity K HV Alpenland in 1961.
President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded him the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.

The American Association of University Professors presented him with the Meikle John Award in 1970.
He received the Jefferson Awards’ annual Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged in 1976.
The National Academy of Sciences awarded him the Public Welfare Medal in 1984.

In 1999, he received the Congressional Medal of Freedom.
In 2002, he was awarded the University of San Diego’s 150th honorary degree. He holds the Guinness World Record for ‘Most Honorary Degrees’ for the same reason.

He was the inaugural winner of the NCAA’s Gerald R. Ford Award for intercollegiate athletics leadership in 2004.
He received Indiana’s highest accolade, the Sachem Award, in 2006, in celebration of a career of excellence and moral character that has brought credit and respect to the state.

In 2010, he was one of 100 people honored by Catholic Charities USA with a Centennial Medal for his service on behalf of the disadvantaged.
In 2013, he was given the status of honorary Navy Chaplain.

Personal History and Legacy

He was a resident of the Notre Dame Campus. On the thirteenth floor, he had a private office with the Olympic Torch from the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games.
In 1987, the University of Notre Dame’s library, which was opened on September 16, 1963, was renamed in honor of Father Hesburgh.
Theodore Hesburgh died on February 26, 2015, in Notre Dame, Indiana, at the age of 97.

Estimated Net Worth

Theodore is one of the wealthiest religious leaders and one of the most well-known. Theodore Hesburgh’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.


This priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross was given the campus laundry number 00652 when he initially entered Notre Dame as a student in 1934, which he kept until the end.