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Father Theodore Hesburgh
Father Theodore Hesburgh
God, Country, Notre Dame
ISBN: 0268010382
God, Country, Notre Dame
In his book, Father Hesburgh chronicled his work as a priest, university president, and a public servant in politics and government. This autobiography talks about his experiences on 14 presidential commissions, including the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and the development of Notre Dame into a strong Catholic university. He said of his Notre Dame experience, a great university "needs a great faculty, a great student body, and great facilities." Father Hesburgh also commented on the current war in the Persian Gulf and gave his religious views on the conflict.
God, Country, Notre Dame
Program Air Date: February 10, 1991

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Father Theodore Hesburgh, author of the new autobiography God, Country, Notre Dame, why a book?
THEODORE HESBURGH, AUTHOR, "GOD, COUNTRY, NOTRE DAME: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THEODORE M. HESBURGH": Well, that's a good question. That's the seventh one I've done. A nice lady named Pat Kossmann over at Doubleday called me at least every year for 10 years and said, "Time to do an autobiography." I kept saying, "I'm too busy doing things. I don't want to sit down and have to write about them." So after I retired and took a year off, came back and she said, "Well, now you can do it." She was very persuasive. I wanted her to let me do a book on travel and retirement, proving that you can be very busy and flat out and suddenly knock off completely and do something completely different and wind up back on your feet working just as hard. But the year off was great, and she said, "I'll make a deal with you. If you do a biography first, then we'll pick up the travel and retirement book." So, I did it.
LAMB: Near the end of the book you talk about leaving the Notre Dame campus after serving as president for a lot of years and retiring. And you and Father Ed Joyce took off for a year?
LAMB: You didn't tell us much about that year. Where did you go for that year?
HESBURGH: I said that's another book. Well, we first did something we had never done before. We took an RV -- neither of us had ever been in an RV -- and they said, "They'll never get beyond Gary. First, they'll be fighting with each other," which wasn't going to happen because we'd worked together for 35 years. We went out to all the great national parks in the west like Crater Lake and Glacier and Mesa Verde and all those places which we'd seen a thousand times from 40,000 feet, but not up close. That was the first segment. The second segment, we took a small airplane and went all over Alaska. The third segment, we went from South America from the Rio Grande all the way to Tierra del Fuego at the end of the hemisphere, and we did a month on the Amazon with an explorer ship with the zodiacs going ashore every day. Then we took really tough duty. We were co-chaplains on the QE2 around the world. That was work, though, I must say. We had mass and the homily every day and a lot of counseling. Then we thought that was the end of it when we got home, but we were invited to go the Antarctic over Christmas as chaplains. So, we did that, too, last Christmas.
LAMB: Have you ever had that kind of time off since you were at Notre Dame?
HESBURGH: Never, no. I think we were the only two guys in the whole university that hadn't had a sabbatical. Well, I went back to teach in '45 and this was '87. I had had a few weeks off now and then when I came to kind of a turning point. In the middle of the student revolution I took six weeks off just to get it flushed out of my mind. I went around the world -- a lot of places I hadn't been like Alice Springs and Nepal and Addis Ababa -- places like that. When I thought I was going to retire in '65 and they said, "Go five years more," I took six weeks off and got all the books I could find -- the best books on Islam -- and got aboard a tanker and rode for many days on a French tanker. I got a bonus -- I had to brush up on French, too.
LAMB: How many languages do you speak?
HESBURGH: Well, I won't starve in about 10, but I'm not elegant in very many of them. They're workable, but they aren't what I'd call elegant. I'm best in French, probably.
LAMB: Since the last time we talked, which was in October of '84 on the Notre Dame campus . . .
HESBURGH: In the rain.
LAMB: In the rain, right. There have been a lot of conflicts in the world, a lot of problems, and I just have a need to ask you this question: If there is a God, why all the conflict? Why all the war? Why all the violence?
HESBURGH: I can give you an even worse one: Why so many of it religious based? This is what in theology we call the problem of evil. God did a great thing for us, better than any creature we know on earth. He gave us intelligence and freedom, and that's how we mimic or image him, by being intelligent and by being free. The only problem is, the moment he made us free, we're free to be good or free to be evil, and too often we're evil. We have his grace if we ask for it, but the fact is that he can't have loving creatures if he doesn't make us free to love. Or if he makes us free to love, he's got to make us free to hate, and that's fundamentally what it gets down to. You can't have it both ways. Even God can't have it both ways. You can't be free to do one thing and not free to do another. So, if we're free to earn heaven, we're also free to blow it.
LAMB: I suppose it depends on which side you're on and how you look at it whether you're evil or good.
HESBURGH: Yes, they can say that, too, especially in the religious wars -- they've all got God on their side, and none of them do.
LAMB: Have you been to Jerusalem?
HESBURGH: I have an institute in Jerusalem which I built 25 years ago called the Tantur. Paul VI asked me to build a place where Protestants, Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox Christians could live together, pray together, work together, tour together, if you will, and that place has been going for 25 years. We've had over 2,500 people there, mostly Protestants but next would probably be Catholics and then Anglican and Orthodox. We try to do, in a way, what Paul VI wanted. He wanted us to reproduce what happened during the Vatican Council II. About 200 theologians got together from all over the world in Rome and spent the whole council there advising us on what we were doing. I have to say that Jerusalem is a place that really catches you in the heart -- all the popes. It really catches you because it's a place that belongs to everybody. It belongs to Jews, it belongs to Christians, it belongs to Muslims. To all three it's a holy city. And it belongs to history and it belongs to Scripture. There's no place on earth like Jerusalem.
LAMB: When you walk in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, it's all divided up.
HESBURGH: That's right. They're fighting over it -- the Armenians and the Copts and the Catholics and the Orthodox. Everybody's got a piece of the action, if you will. I hate to see it. I feel very uneasy with that, Brian. I really do.
LAMB: How does that happen in the name of religion?
HESBURGH: It shouldn't. It's just that people think they own God or something. That's why we built this building called Tantur. It's right between Jerusalem and Bethlehem -- actually a little closer to Bethlehem but within the confines of Jerusalem. We try to show there that Christians of all stripes can really spend time studying, living, playing, praying together and do it in a way that transcends the differences, if you will, because of their loyalty to the Lord. But there's been all too little of that.
LAMB: What was your first year at Notre Dame?
HESBURGH: In '34. A freshman.
LAMB: You served six presidents and had 14 presidential appointments according to that introduction in the book and known four popes?
HESBURGH: More than that. I went to Rome -- the pope was then Pius XI. I was there the night Pius XII was elected. I knew John XXIII, and I knew Paul VI best. He was a good friend of mine. Then, of course, I know the present pope.
LAMB: During all those years has the world gotten better?
HESBURGH: Yes, in many ways it's gotten better. We've both been through the Cold War, and I think what's happening today has got to be said to be better than this East-West confrontation that colored every bit of political action, every bit of budgets. I just drove by the new Russian embassy here in town and I thought of all the reasons they had for putting it where they did and the high ground and all the rest -- it's silly today. They're all but invalidated. History has gone by them. I've been in Moscow the last three years every January, and I'm going this January. It's just incredible to see the differences there and to hear Mr. Gorbachev say he's willing to cut out all nuclear weapons tonight before midnight if everybody will agree, and certain all chemical and all biological. He just says that flatly. I just wish we'd take him up on it flatly.
LAMB: Why is it changing? Why is the world getting better?
HESBURGH: I think the world is on a kind of a cycle, up and down, and we've had terrible cycles and good ones. I think we've had enough good people around that live in hope -- and I certainly live in hope -- and who have worked hard to have peace in a nuclear age and to show that this is an insanity to build up 60,000 nuclear warheads, any hundred of which could wipe us out, and that somehow we've got to be more open to each other in our differences. We have a thing at Notre Dame that I have found very interesting. It's part of our Peace Institute. I'm working with five institutes I founded there, but this one is kind of a favorite because it's a peace institute. We have students coming in from all possible places on earth, different kinds of places. You would really be interested in this group. They come for 12 months, they live in the same place, they're men and women, they are under 25, they're all university graduates and they spend a year studying peace -- every aspect of peace. The interesting thing about it is that there are Russians -- every year we've had Russians. We've had Chinese, we've had Indians, Japanese, all the nuclear powers --British, French, Americans. We've had Latin Americans, of course, and Africans, South Africans. Israelis, Palestinians. To have people with so many different backgrounds, so many different cultures, so many different languages, religions, or the lack of it entirely, and yet at the end of the year I say, "I want you to write a common essay, and you've all got to sign it. If anybody objects to any word, you can't put it in." So they write an essay, and they say, "What do we write it on?" I say, "Two things. We've got 50 years of life yet to live. What kind of a world do we want to help build and, two, what do we have to do to build it from what we've learned this year?" You always get the same answer from this widely various group of young people under 25. One, they want a world of peace, and they say you can't have that unless you have a world of justice. Secondly, we've got to live with each other's differences, we've got to respect each other, and we've got to be open to each other. Together we can build a world of justice and peace, but we've got to do it together because the world's totally interdependent. That gives me hope.
LAMB: Of all those presidential appointments, which ones did you like the best?
HESBURGH: I would think, from an emotional point of view, probably the youngsters who got in trouble in the Vietnam War, either in the military or in civilian or going to Canada or whatever. We had well over a half million youngsters in real trouble. Try going through life with a felony on your back. You can't even get a job. We got all of those cleared through Jimmy Carter, although President Ford set up the commission to do it. In civil rights, I think, we can literally say that many people were involved besides our commission, but we changed the face of America. We had apartheid as bad as South Africa, 200 years old, sanctioned by law throughout the South, and, by golly, we changed that once and for all with the Omnibus Civil Rights Act of 1964.
LAMB: This is a picture of you when you were chairman of the Civil Rights Commission?
HESBURGH: That's right. I remember that place exactly. I was giving out a report which got me in real trouble because it was on how well the federal agencies were obeying the federal Civil Rights Act, especially regarding opportunity for employment. It turned out that out of 40 of the largest we looked at, 39 came out poor, which is the lowest category, just on the facts of employment, and one came out fair. That was HEW in those days.
LAMB: You got fired.
HESBURGH: Yes, I got fired thoroughly and completely and quickly.
LAMB: By Richard Nixon.
HESBURGH: That's right.
LAMB: Why?
HESBURGH: Well, first of all, he appointed me chairman. I'd been on the commission 11 years at that point. I asked to resign and he said, "No, I'd rather have you be chairman," because the chairman was going to take over AID -- John Hannah. He said, "No, I want you to be chairman." So I said, "Okay, let's do it for a year and at the end of a year if you're unhappy we'll call it off." During that year I got in so deeply that I couldn't back out without really letting down a lot of people that were trying to bring civil rights to Washington, if you will. I kept getting tougher and tougher, I guess, and I think I can honestly say that if I were he and he were me, I'd fire me. I think I was being pretty rough on him. On the other hand, I was doing what I took an oath to do -- to carry out the laws and to investigate the situations where American citizens didn't get full protection of the law or full opportunity. I didn't come out of it with any terribly bad feeling. As a matter of fact, it was kind of a badge of honor for a while, I guess.
LAMB: Do you ever talk to him?
HESBURGH: Oh, yes. I was at the Hall of Fame dinner in New York -- a lot of the presidents go to that. I hadn't heard from him except a month after I was fired I got a nice letter which I suspect Leonard Garment, his attorney, probably wrote. A very nice guy, Leonard. But anyway, I got a nice letter a month later, and then I didn't hear or see anything about him for the next year and a half, two years. Then this night at the Hall of Fame in New York, I had to give the talk. There were two ex-presidents there, Ford and Nixon, and everybody got up and introduced Ford first and Nixon second, even though Nixon had been president longer and had been elected, which Ford hadn't. Everybody likes Jerry Ford -- I like him, too. But the interesting thing was that Nixon was always getting introduced second. So, as I walked the podium I stopped and I shook hands with him and I shook hands with Ford and then I introduced Mr. Nixon first, and since that time whenever he writes a book or an article, I get a copy. There's no point in having bad feelings anyway. It's a waste of time.
LAMB: How will he fit in history?
HESBURGH: I think a lot better than he came off at the time he resigned. I once -- in fact, it was the day that I offered to resign from the Civil Rights Commission and he asked me to stay on and be chairman -- I said, "Well, while I'm here in the office" -- this was in the Oval Office, just the two of us, pre-bugging -- I said, "There are four things you could do to come off better with the young people in this country. which you don't come off very well with right now." He said, "What's that?" I said, "First, give them the vote. If they're old enough to be drafted at 18, they ought to be able to vote for their leadership at 18. Two, give them an option on the all-volunteer Army rather than the draft." It worked just as well, and within a year we had the all-volunteer Army. He also got an amendment through for the vote at 18. Then I said, "Third thing, make it possible for the first time in history for every young American who can get in any school he can get into because of his ability and his desire to get a good education, make it possible for that to happen even though he has to borrow money from the government or work or get grants from the school. For the first time in history make it possible for any young American to go to Harvard to go to Princeton or to go to Yale or Stanford or Notre Dame, Chicago -- any school -- even though it's expensive because that's the future of the country." He got those laws through, for the first time in history. Now we're peddling backwards because those funds are being cut for student aid. I said, "If you do these things, I think you'll come off better and, of course, the overlying thing, get rid of the darned Vietnam War." Well, it took him four years for that, which I think was a little slower than necessary. But he did all four things, and he got zero credit for it. Ask any kid today, "How come you got to vote at age 18?" and none of them will say Nixon.
LAMB: Of all the presidents you've known, which one did you enjoy being around the most?
HESBURGH: I think, for sure, fun and a wonderful guy Jerry Ford's got to have it hands down. I liked Eisenhower. I found him a very decent guy. He was no flaming liberal, but he had a sense of justice and decency. I remember one thing he did which will kind of illustrate what we were up against in 1958. Our first hearing was going to be in Montgomery, Ala., seat of the Confederacy. We applied to every hotel in town and none of them would take us because we had a black commissioner and we had two black lawyers on our staff. So, John Hannah, who was chairman then, said, "What the heck, we'll go out to the air-base" -- Montgomery Air University, seat of all the ROTCs, etc. We sent a request in for so many rooms in the BOQ [bachelor officer quarters] and got word back, "We couldn't possibly put a mixed group in the BOQ." I thought Truman had integrated the services a long time ago, but apparently it hadn't taken there. So, John said, "Not to worry. I'll write to the head of the Air Force. He's a friend of mine." He wrote the secretary of the Air Force, and he came back and said, "I can't override my commander in Montgomery." So, John said, "Not to worry. I'll write Engine Charlie Wilson" -- remember, he was secretary of defense. He wrote him, and Engine Charlie, who had been president of GM, said, "I can't override my secretary of the Air Force." Then John got angry, and he called up Eisenhower directly. Eisenhower was furious when he heard that a federal base would not allow a federal commission appointed by the president, set up by the Congress, to stay in that BOQ -- bachelor officers quarter. So he put out an executive order. Now, Brian, imaginez-vous. In the year 1958, it took a presidential executive order to get a federal commission to stay at the BOQ at an Air Force establishment. That's how far we've come. That's why I'm optimistic.
LAMB: How will John Kennedy look years from now?
HESBURGH: On civil rights, I'd have to say that he did not do as well as Johnson. Johnson was the great hero on civil rights. He got up, as you recall, after Kennedy was assassinated -- that probably helped the cause, I mean, his having been assassinated; a terrible thing to say but people were feeling pretty awful about things at that point -- and Johnson got up to a joint session of Congress, put forth the wildest imaginable bill which was going to throw apartheid out the window forever called the Omnibus Civil Rights Act of 1964. In front of the joint session of Congress, he ended his talk by saying, "We shall overcome." Now, for a Southern president from Texas to quote the battle cry of the civil rights movement to wind up an appeal to pass this law, and he got it passed. The face of America was changed overnight after 200 years of another kind of life. Incredible.
LAMB: Several years ago the Vatican said to priests in this country, "No more elected politics." You can explain it better than that, but Father Drinan was a congressman out of Massachusetts?
LAMB: He had to quit. Why?
HESBURGH: Well, let me first explain myself. I promised -- to myself; I didn't have to do it -- when I became a priest 47 years ago that I would never be active in a political party, I would never endorse a candidate and I would never run for elected office. I've spent over 45 years serving the government in various commissions, but I've never run for elective office. Bob Drinan called me up when I was in Boston at an alumni meeting when he was running for office the first time, and he said, "You're probably going to have a press conference. Are you going to do me in?" I said, "No, Bob. I promised this to myself but I don't try to live other people's lives. If you want to run, you're kind of a special case. You're a lawyer, you're a law dean, you'd be a great congressman." So he ran, and then later I think the right wing in America got after him and started saying it was terrible thing that he didn't agree with them on a lot of moral points, you know. I think it was probably at that point a mistake to let -- there were people in congresses and parliaments all over the world that happened to be priests. For myself, I wouldn't do it because I think it divides people when you're in this party or that party or opposing this candidate or that one. But Bob, as you know, had joined up with Ted Kennedy to redo the whole criminal code, and he had it almost wrapped up. It was something we desperately needed, but as a result of his leaving, that went down the drain and to this day we haven't revised the criminal code, which badly needs it. For myself I think it's best for a priest to stay out of politics. For somebody else, that's their business. In general, I understand why the pope did it. He was afraid of getting the church too tied up with the state, which is generally what America is about.
LAMB: What's the difference between taking a presidential appointment like you have many times and being in elected politics?
HESBURGH: Well, once you get into an election, one, you got to run on a party; two, you've got to wallop the other guy in the campaign. All these things are divisive, as far as you go as a priest. If a person isn't a Catholic they say, "Well, what's that priest up there doing this for? He ought to mind his business." Well, if you're doing it officially and getting elected and getting paid by the government, that's one thing. But these jobs that I did for the government, first of all you lose money doing them, and after a few years I said, "I don't what to take any more pay from the government. I'll do it for free." The university would cover my expenses. First of all, I only took jobs I felt I could do well as a priest because there was some moral issue involved, like forgiveness in the case of the Vietnam offenders or justice in the case of civil rights or justice in the case of immigration and refugee policy, or using science and technology to make a better world in the case that I was an ambassador for science and technology for development. Those are all things, I felt, as both an educator and a priest, I could do sincerely without compromising myself in any way and without taking money for it. I think there is a difference between that and running for office, because running for office tends to be divisive, and I think you're a priest to bring people together and not to split them up and get them pro and con. It gets religion a little close to the line, I think, of what we think religion should be in this country -- important, motivating, deepening faith and all the rest, making this country special as it is, but at the same time not being supported by the government. I once recently -- last year as a matter of fact -- was trying to figure out why the bishops in Chile were fierce against the military government denying people their human rights and grabbing people and killing them and torturing them and all the rest. I found that the people over in Argentina weren't that difficult on it. I said, "What's the difference?" They said, "Well, the Argentinean government pays the bishops and the Chilean bishops get their own money." That's a fairly important difference. I would hate to be paid by the government. I like to have the church totally independent of the government and at the same time being helpful.
LAMB: What do you do with the funds from this book?
HESBURGH: Very simple. I have, as I told you, five international institutes that I am chairing and anything that comes in from this book goes to the university to make an endowment for the International Human Rights Institute, which I chair.
LAMB: On the cover it says, "The Autobiography of Theodore M. Hesburgh with Jerry Reedy." Who's Jerry Reedy?
HESBURGH: Jerry Reedy is an alumnus, a former editor. I had dictated about 2,000 pages, and I didn't want the nonsense of going through them, putting them into chapters and doing all the work that goes into taking a thing this high and pulling it into 330 pages, so I asked Jerry to do it for me. I then went over and edited the whole thing myself. When I got that all done, it seemed to me it was still a little long and not tight enough, so I asked another friend of mine, a Jewish fellow named Al Moscow, who had done books on the Rockefellers, on Nixon and some other people, if he would pull it down another third and tighten it up and he did that. I'm grateful to both those fellows. It saved me a lot of work that otherwise I just didn't have time for. But I must say I edited the thing four complete times. There's a lot of work that goes into a book.
LAMB: When did you finish it?
HESBURGH: I finished it on September 1, and I had to do that to get it out this last week.
LAMB: What would you want to happen as a result of publishing a book like this?
HESBURGH: Several things. One, the book is full of things I've been interested in, and I think there are good things like peace and justice and ecumenical spirit and human rights and all the rest. I would hope people would see, one, that you can make a difference. I noticed in the last part of the book, I mentioned that I've been saying to students all my life, "You can make a difference. If you join up with other good people, you can all make a difference. But it's important, I think, to go into life knowing that life can be different because you are in it and you are passing this way."
LAMB: Where was this picture taken?
HESBURGH: That was taken aboard the S.S. Champlain on my way to Rome in 1937, September 25. How's that?
LAMB: Which one are you?
HESBURGH: I'm the one on your right hand -- that one, yes.
LAMB: This one right here?
HESBURGH: The other one is Tom McDonagh. He was from East Chicago. We were both third-year seminarians at that point.
LAMB: And now you live in the Theodore Hesburgh Library?
HESBURGH: I work there on the 13th floor, a good floor, and I live in the same monastery room I've lived in since 1949, right over the garbage can.
LAMB: One of the interesting things you write about in the book is that you got the library there that's named after you . . .
HESBURGH: That's terrible.
LAMB: . . . and then Joan Kroc of McDonald hamburgers . . .
HESBURGH: Yes, she's building an international -- she said it's got to be called the Hesburgh Center for International Studies because these institutes on human rights and development and peace and everything are going to be located there. I said, "Joan, look, I didn't want my name on the library and I argued with the trustees and then they called a meeting and didn't invite me and passed the resolution." The first I knew it, my name was on it and I saw them tacking the letters up, literally, and I couldn't do anything about it at that point because I had retired. I said, "Let's name the building after you. We'll call it the Kroc Center for International Studies," and she said, "No, I don't want it named after me." I said, "Joan, that makes us even. I don't want it named after me, and you don't want it named after you." She said, "That doesn't make us even. I've got the $6 million." I said, "Are you really serious?" and she said, "I'm serious. No name, no building." I said, "Well, I've got to have that building to pull all these international studies together at Notre Dame." She said, "I'll give 24 hours to think about it." I said, "I don't need 24 hours if you're serious, but I hate to think you are serious." She said, "I'm serious," so I said, "Okay." So that's what happened.
LAMB: In the preface in your book you write, "I raised and spent gobs of money, but always for good causes, for the good of those in material or spiritual need." How much money have you raised?
HESBURGH: Oh, over the years I would guess several billion dollars, but I don't have a bank account. I don't have any money because I have the vow of poverty. It's all gone for good things. I hate raising money, to be honest with you, and everything I belong to needs money. I mean the university is a bottomless pit for its needs of money. I belong to maybe 50 different organizations around the world working for peace and justice and development and human rights and all this sort of thing. They all need money, and I'm just so sick of trying to raise money. I think people run when they see me coming. I can say one honest thing -- I don't have one blessed nickel or penny of that money. It's all gone out into good things.
LAMB: What's the vow of poverty mean?
HESBURGH: The vow of poverty means that you are not tied down to material things. Everything you earn goes to the order, either directly or through where you're working -- in my case, the university. It means that you can't acquire property without their permission. I never acquired any. I don't want any. If you have property left to you by your parents that's in your name, you can't use it without their okay. That's the simple vow of poverty. There is a solemn vow of poverty like the Franciscans and the Dominicans and the Jesuits have. They can't even own things. We can own it, but, in fact, I don't because you might as well go the distance. Every religious order requires their people to take three vows -- poverty, to kind of clear you away from material things; chastity, you really give up having a family of your own, a love life of your own, if you will; and obedience, which is the toughest of all, which means you do what they tell you to do. It's like being in the Marines. It's interesting because early when I was a young priest, three times they asked me did I want A or B, and I always said I would like A and they gave me B. So after that I said, "Quit asking me." But that's the way it is. You do what you're told to do.
LAMB: There was a time, though, that I remember reading in the book that one of the cardinals said that he wanted you to do something and you sent back word you weren't going to do it, and it had to deal with censorship.
HESBURGH: Yes. That had to do with John Courtney Murray, who was a Jesuit who had a theory which went absolutely opposite to what this cardinal -- his name was [Alfredo] Ottaviani. He had written a book on church-state, and his famous thesis was "error has no rights." In other words, if you've got the truth you can talk, but if you're in error you get put down. John Courtney Murray answered that very simply. He said, "First of all nobody has rights but people. You have rights, I have rights because we're persons. If you're a human person you have certain God-given rights. But error is an abstraction. Abstractions don't have rights or wrongs or anything. They're just ideas, abstractions. Error is an idea, an abstraction." So, that kicked a hole in Ottaviani's book, which is on church-state relations, and Ottaviani didn't like to see his famous thesis kicked in the head. Now, that thesis had been around a long time, about several centuries, but it happened -- this is, I think, told also in the book -- when Vatican II came along Cardinal Spellman took Murray to Rome as his theological expert, and when Murray was in Rome he exposed his thesis, which was that persons even in error have rights because they're persons and this is their error and as long as they're sincere about it they have rights. The result of that was that they passed in Vatican II a famous declaration on human rights and human freedom of expression which upheld Murray in spades and put Ottaviani down the drain.
LAMB: But basically you . . .
HESBURGH: So when he asked me to suppress this book that Murray had written a chapter for, I just said, "No way. This is a university. We don't have people calling up saying do suppress this or don't suppress this. We're a place of free expression."
LAMB: And they didn't give you the heave-ho?
HESBURGH: No. There are times when you do what you think is right. I said quite frankly, "If you want to fire me, fire me. But as long as I'm running a university, I'm going to run it like a university, and that involves academic freedom." Well, that was the alternative. They could have fired me and put somebody else in who would have jumped through a hoop for them, but I wasn't about to do that.
LAMB: Over the years how have you personally handled criticism when you've gotten it?
HESBURGH: First, Brian, I don't brood over it. In fact, I assume that the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing. So I do what I think I ought to do, and if I get criticism, I get criticism. I'll probably get some criticism for this conversation. But I don't worry about it because I think the best I can do as a human being is to be honest and to be direct and to say what I think and to do what I think I should do. If that involves criticism, so be it.
LAMB: Where was this picture taken?
HESBURGH: That was taken at the South Pole.
LAMB: When?
HESBURGH: 1963. I went down with Larry Gould who was Byrd's executive officer as a young geologist and went back four times. I went with him the fifth time. We were both on the National Science Board which operated the explorations down there and research. Going to the pole with Larry Gould was like going to Africa with Livingstone or Stanley. He is really a great expert. He's still alive, at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Anyway, I went down with him, and he had been there five times. He'd lived there for two years in the Byrd expedition, but he had never been at the pole. So we got off the C-130 down there on skis -- the pole was about a mile away -- and he said, "Ted, this is for me like a pilgrimage. Would you walk out to the pole with me, just the two of us." So we walked out and took each other's picture. But he was a great guy.
LAMB: Speaking of criticism, I brought with me some newspaper columns that I've seen -- a criticism of Notre Dame by a guy that I know you're going to know by the name of Colman McCarthy.
HESBURGH: Oh, yes, sure. He takes a dim view of ROTC.
LAMB: I think his son graduated from there.
HESBURGH: His son graduated. He's lecturing there this week.
LAMB: He's been here many times and taken calls from viewers. But I wanted to ask you about it because it's an interesting subject, the ROTC. He says, "Without a doubt Notre Dame's ROTC unit with 790 student cadets enrolls more than 10 percent of the university's undergraduates. That percentage ranks first among the nation's 1,200 ROTC campuses. Notre Dame boasts that 90 percent of its ROTC students receive scholarship money. That, too, puts it first." Is that a fact?
HESBURGH: That's a fact. It's a little less than that. The actual number now is about 650 the last time I saw it, but the number doesn't make any difference. We have all three. We have Army, Navy, Air Force. Of course, the Navy has a Marine contingent. We are the largest private trainer of officers for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. It seems to me that we're always going to have an Army -- it's in the Constitution -- and an Army is as good as its officers. I would much rather have in the armed forces, which we are going to have, officers trained with a sense of value, a sense of peace. All of these officers take a course on peace through the Peace Institute, which I mentioned earlier. They are fine young men. They will give four years of service for four years of education. My own brother was in the ROTC, and he wouldn't have been able to go to Notre Dame otherwise because he didn't have the money. These are youngsters. Maybe for each service, some 1,500 picked out of 30, 000, 40,000 applicants -- picked for intelligence, for leadership, for integrity. They are some of the finest students we have, and I'd say if we're going to have armed forces and the armed forces are going to reflect the wisdom of the officers and their concern for peace and non-violence, I'd rather have them from Notre Dame than from Podunk, whatever Podunk might be. I think I can honestly say -- and I've heard this a thousand times from people in the Pentagon -- that our officers give fine service, intelligent service, all over the world with a great integrity. I don't apologize for that. I think it's a service to our country, which is a good service.
LAMB: His point here is that "with a campus militarized like this, Notre Dame might as well call itself 'Little West Point.' The university president Reverend Theodore Hesburgh" -- this was written, obviously, right as you were leaving -- "who is retiring this month is ardent about ROTC presence. 'Six Catholic masses a semester,' he said, 'are celebrated just for the cadets.' Future wars, presumably, are to be holy wars."
HESBURGH: That is a lot of you-know-what, but I won't say it on the air. It seems to me that's a legitimate point of view. I talked about academic freedom earlier. I think he's got journalistic as well as academic freedom to say whatever he wishes. I just happen to disagree with him.
LAMB: He's got the needle in a couple of other columns here.
HESBURGH: I know he does.
LAMB: One of them is football. In another column he says, "Notre Dame football -- like football everywhere else, an exercise in which 11 bodies are set to crashing and hashing and bashing into 11 other bodies -- is not sports. It's theology with players carrying out the missionary work of the Lord. Pre game prayers, a team priest on the sidelines making the sign of the cross after touchdowns are liturgy special to Notre Dame. Win one for the Gipper -- Jesus, too."
HESBURGH: Yes, well, again that's silly. I have, as a matter of fact, offered mass occasionally for the players when I was in office. I told them, "I'm not praying for you to win today. I'm praying for you to give a good performance. If you do your best and you're well coached, you're going to win more than you lose. But this is part of your whole life. You ought to do your best whatever you're doing, wherever you're doing it, and it ought to be fun, too. It is a sport." I'm now co-chairman with Bill Friday of North Carolina, a former president, on a thing called the Knight Commission for the future of and the reform of intercollegiate athletics.
LAMB: It's the Knight Foundation, Knight-Ridder?
HESBURGH: The Knight Foundation. Knight-Ridder set it up. They gave us $2 million and we were able to pick our own commission of 22 people, mostly presidents and mostly of 1-A football schools. We're coming up with a report -- at least we're heading in this direction right now -- called "One Plus Three." One, we say the way to clean up intercollegiate athletics is to have the president in charge with his trustees behind him and his faculty, students and alumni behind him. He has to be the sign of the integrity and declare the integrity of the institution. "One Plus Three." The three are, first, academic integrity. You don't take people who can't make it in a university. If you take them, you graduate the same number as you do of regular students who spend four years there. I can say that we have graduated the last 20 years under Digger Phelps in basketball 100 percent. Every single student has graduated, and we don't have any phys ed. course requirements and that kind of thing. These are standard courses -- humanities, science, engineering, and business. Number two, I can only think of three people in the last 30 years who haven't graduated in the football program who've been there four years, and most of them are there four years. Secondly, we say we have to have fiscal integrity. Most of the stuff going on is because there's money floating out there. We say every cent of athletic money, whether it's from tickets or television or booster clubs or sneakers or whatever, all comes into the university and is under control of the university budget, and nothing is spent unless it's approved by the regular budget commission. Three, our reputation -- "our" being higher education -- is so poor today, we say the third point is the president should invite in an outside auditor who has access to the president, the coaches, the athletic records, the financial records, and he ought to do the same audit on the athletic operation as the auditor does for your financial operation generally -- your budget, your financial statement. That ought to be made public every year, that the schools are indeed doing what they claim to do. Now, I know you can do it, because we did it with high integrity for as long as I can remember -- at least as long as I've known the facts of the place which is about 40 years. I know it can be done if the president decides to do it. I think that's a lot more positive attitude towards what is a highlight of American life, which is Saturday afternoon in the fall, in what Colman McCarthy is saying. But again, he's free to say what he wants to say, and I don't resent his saying it.
LAMB: You write in your book, "Big-time football and big-time basketball with television rights and box office receipts reaching into the millions of dollars of profit are replete with temptations to win and become number one at any cost." He also writes about NBC paying Notre Dame something like $30 million, what, over five years?
HESBURGH: Yes, so, Texas has oil wells, and we've got football.
LAMB: Is there too much emphasis on football at Notre Dame?
HESBURGH: It's always a danger. I don't think there is too much emphasis right now because our students go to class, and they all graduate. I think it's good for the school spirit around the country. We don't cheat, we don't chisel, and we don't cut corners. The money we make in television is going into scholarships for minority kids, which we haven't been able to get anywhere else. Now, if there's some big crime in that, I'd like to know what it is.
LAMB: What about just the sport of football where you've got human beings out there beating each other's brains in every Saturday?
HESBURGH: Well, you know, if it's a kind of sport where people aren't beating each other's brains in -- I don't think there's very much brain damage around that I've heard about anyway. It's an easy journalistic way of describing what it is. I think it's a very precise, complicated and rather attractive kind of game. I think it's caught the imagination of the American people in a way that nothing else has. So, I must say that sport in a school certainly has a place. We have, for example, 1,000 students playing football on hall teams. We have thousands of students every day in the week out shooting baskets in the hoops all over campus. We have a very healthy student body, men and women, and they all like sports and I think sports does something for them in the sense of being competitive and being fair and playing the game. So, I would make no apology for sports. I'm not out to kill sports even though I spent the better part of two years now on this Knight Commission for the reform of intercollegiate athletics. I think athletics, generally, do need to be reformed in this country. For example, how many days of class do you think we missed in the regular season last year where we played all over the country? Just guess.
LAMB: You mean the players?
LAMB: I have no idea.
HESBURGH: They missed one class session. Not a day of class, but one class, like at 3:00 in the afternoon, in the whole season.
LAMB: Their schedule is set up so they don't go to school on Fridays?
HESBURGH: No, they go to school in Friday, but we leave after school on Friday and fly to the place we're going to. The airplane has been a great savior. In the old days you had to go on a train and go to the West Coast. Now we have one day we take off at the end of the season. That's after the last game, which is every other year in Los Angeles, so they go to Disneyland or something. But last season once we got the regular season started -- there was one game in the Meadowlands before the season started; I should say that. We're not going to do that again. But once the season started, for the regular 11 games we missed one class session. We don't play games with this. We started the basketball season last year, and our very best player didn't start the season because he was one-tenth of 1 percent off the class mark he should have had to have progress towards a degree that particular semester. I saw him on TV that night after he had been told he was ineligible unless he made the grades in the next exam which was coming up in December -- this was in November -- and he said, "Well, I learned two things. One, I can study a lot harder than I've been studying and that's going to be good for me; and, two, when they told me I'm coming here to get an education first and to play basketball second they weren't kidding because they need me and I can't play now until I get my average up to 2.0."
LAMB: Did you ever think about making college sports or college athletics -- just pay them and take this thing out of the amateur league?
HESBURGH: I think that's baloney. No, I think it's amateur. It's got to be amateur, and I think what they earn goes into the good of the school. I think it's criminal to have people floating around outside the operation with their own money. Some athletic departments actually loan money to their university, and that I think is silly. It ought to be university money, every cent of it, and the university ought to use it for its purposes. Our new president Father Ed Malloy is very dedicated to having the number of minority students in the students equal to the number of minority students in the nation because we're a national school. But to do that is going to require about $100 million endowment, and if we can raise one-fourth of that money at least through television over a five-year period, we're going to be able to reach our goal because we've already raised about $60 million for minority endowment and we need to have $100 million. So, as I said, if you're in the University of Texas you get oil wells. What's so holy about oil wells? We've got a reputation for integrity and excellence that we've built up over 150 years, next year. If that brings in some income because people like to watch our games, so what? That money isn't going into buying more uniforms and stuff. It's going into forever funding an endowment to let minority kids come to Notre Dame.
LAMB: How many students, undergraduate, at Notre Dame?
HESBURGH: A lot less than people think. Seventy-five hundred, and we've kept it there for many years. We have about 2,500 professional and master's and doctoral students. We have about 40 master programs and about 20-plus doctoral programs.
LAMB: Law school, med school, any of those?
HESBURGH: No. We have pre-med, and we have the first two years of medicine for the state -- pre-clinical years. But we do have an advanced business school, and we have an advanced law school, of course. They're getting into doctoral programs. And we have, of course, all of the typical Ph.D. programs -- over 20 of them.
LAMB: When you wrote this book you were 73 years old?
HESBURGH: When I finished I was 73-and-a-half. I'm beginning to count the half years in there, Brian.
LAMB: Do you notice yourself slowing down at all?
HESBURGH: Let me put it this way: I am not slowing down, but I probably should.
LAMB: Why?
HESBURGH: Well, you know, you're not as agile and mobile as you get into your middle 70s as you were when you were in your middle 20s. I've been acting like I did 20 or 25 years ago. I mean, this is the eighth time I've been on the East Coast in the last 21 days, and they all involve talks and all kinds of performances that require a lot of work. You just really should taper off a little. I think there's a temptation to everybody that's lived an active life as I have with always having 10 different jobs around the country and around the world that when you come to retirement you don't want to rust out. You don't want to suddenly sit back and do nothing -- at least I don't. So what you tend to do, you over-commit yourself so that you're still stretching. I think I do that, and I'm trying to cut back on a few things, but it's kind of hard to do because you keep getting new opportunities and new challenges, and, of course, people figure once you're retired you've got nothing else to do so everybody wants you to give a talk all over the country three or four times a week. I've started saying no to them.
LAMB: Did you ever think about quitting the priesthood?
HESBURGH: No. If you wanted to really hurt me, you just say, "You can't be a priest anymore." Of course, they can't do that because you're a priest forever once you're ordained. If you told me, "You've got one choice of one thing that will never happen, what will it be?" And I'd say that there would never be a day in my life I'm not a priest from now until I die. If I would make a pact with the Lord, I'd say, "I'd like to offer mass every day until the day I die. I'm willing to die any time you want me to die. That's not a problem." You know, "Thy will be done," is the real thing we say in the "Our Father." But I would rather be a priest than president or pope or anything else.
LAMB: What's so special about the mass?
HESBURGH: Well, it takes the greatest act of the love of God for people giving his life for us, and re-enacts it with us partaking in him as our Holy Communion. That's the most central thing a priest does at every mass. I was thinking this morning when I offered mass that you've got to remind yourself, this is for the whole world. This isn't just for Catholics, it isn't just for Americans, it isn't just for white people. It's for the whole world. God died for everybody. He died for Protestants and Catholics and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and everybody, and when you offer mass you take that act of redemption, that act of Calvary, and you reproduce it. It's the most wonderful thing you can do as a priest. The second most wonderful thing you do is forgive people.
LAMB: Is the Catholic church still having a problem getting young men in the priesthood?
HESBURGH: Yes, in some places, I think. In other places, no. It's got enormous numbers coming in in, say, Africa or India or places in the Third World generally. But there is a problem of education. It takes a long time to educate men to be priests. In our particular community, curiously, we're getting wonderful vocations -- 15 or 20 a year -- mostly people in their mid-20s, mostly people who already have their university education. A fellow joined up the other day as a medical doctor and we've had, of course, a good number of lawyers join up. They're men that went to college and graduated and went to professional school and always had this lurking back there, "Maybe I should be a priest," and so they come and give it a try. I think we're getting much more solid vocations than we did in the past. When I went into novitiate, as I account there, I was 18 years old. We had 29 people go in and seven come out. That was pretty bad odds. That was like the Foreign Legion. But today we'll have 16 go in and probably 15 will come out, which is quite a difference.
LAMB: Where was this picture taken?
HESBURGH: That looks to me like Rolling Prairie, Ind.
LAMB: Do you think that the Catholic church will ever change the celibacy rules?
HESBURGH: It's possible. Within the Roman Catholic church there are 16 different rites, and most of our Eastern rites in that group, who are as Catholic as I am, do have married clergy like the Marists and people in Lebanon and in that region of the world. That's a different tradition. Celibacy only became a firm tradition in the church around the year 1000 or a little before that. It was the influence of monasticism where monks and religious order people have to be celibate. That's part of the poverty, chastity and obedience. But for diocesan priests it came in much later -- probably halfway in the history of the church, roughly. It was not always as faithfully kept as it might have been, nor is it totally faithfully kept in some places in the world today, I think. It's not a theological question. It's a question of practice, tradition, discipline. Personally, I favor it for myself because I think it's opened up a lot of opportunities for me I wouldn't otherwise have had. In a sense, to belong to everybody, you've got to belong to nobody. I mean, I've been able to be absolutely free as a bird about my time I work and where I work and what I do because I don't have to account to anybody and I don't belong to anybody.
LAMB: We've only got a short time left. Let's say your day is done, you've completed everything that you have to for the day and you've got some free time. What do you do?
HESBURGH: Read a book.
LAMB: What kind of a book?
HESBURGH: All kinds of books. I am -- I have to admit this -- universally curious. I read a lot of fiction, I read a lot of history, I read a lot of adventure, I read a lot of travel. I just have a kind of voracious curiosity, and I love to read. I guess if you wanted to hurt me besides saying, "You can't be a priest," you could say, "You can't read anymore." I think books are a passion with me. I love to read. If I have time, that's what I do.
LAMB: You've got another book you're going to put out. What's it going to be about and when's it due out?
HESBURGH: Well, I'm fiddling right now with a book. I've really got, again, a couple thousand pages of a book on travel but with a little slant towards retirement. So many people are going to retire this year, hundreds of thousands, and they're going to say, "Life stops." Life doesn't stop. You've got to do something, I think, completely different when you first retire, if you can do it, and luckily I was able to do it. I did it by traveling around the world and going places where I hadn't been before. That was a good break, and during that time I kept a daily diary so that I thought that would make a interesting book because when it was all over I came back refreshed and started in a totally different category. I went up to the 13th floor of the library and started getting involved in these five institutes which I'd founded on the great ideas that I think a Catholic university ought to be interested in. We ought to be studying, researching, educating in human rights and peace in the nuclear age and certainly development of the Third World, which is the most people on earth with the fewest resources, ecology, which is the big problem of the future. If we get rid of nuclear weapons and biological and chemical weapons, ecology is the next big threat to humanity, also manmade. And finally, ecumenism -- trying to get religious groups closer together to work for all these things.
LAMB: This is the book. It's called God, Country, Notre Dame. Father Theodore Hesburgh, who ran the University of Notre Dame for lots of years, thank you for joining us.
HESBURGH: Thank you, Brian. Nice being with you.
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