At a time when any man wearing a clerical collar is suspect, especially a Catholic priest, the release of the documentary on the life of Fr. Theodore M. Hesburgh is perfectly timed. His role as the President of the University of Notre Dame for more than three tumultuous decades and his work on the civil rights commission resurrects the notion of the perfect priest.
Fr. Hesburgh was a priest from the Congregation of Holy Cross, a community of men serving as “educators in the faith,” who with a preferential option for the poor, educate both mind and heart principally in the fields of education, parish, and mission. The voice of Maurice La Marche is masterful in engaging the viewer as the story of the life of this iconic priest unfolds. Its director Patrick Creadon first won my heart with his ESPN documentary “Catholics vs. Convicts.” His direction on this documentary also wins my heart, by sharing another great untold story of his beloved alma mater Notre Dame.
A story that seems to parallel some of the same social and political challenges being faced by our nation fifty years later seems a bit providential. In fact, some universities should take a page from Hesburgh’s leadership style. With Hesburgh at the helm, Notre Dame experienced unparalleled growth that included the addition of 40 buildings, doubled enrollment, and endowment growth from less than 10 million to more than 300 million.
For me as a beneficiary of the Civil Rights Act, the work this priest did to broker the opportunities that have been afforded to me and future generations is especially poignant. His stance as communicated in the film extended beyond just racial equality, with his decision to open the once-male-only university’s doors to women. His courageous stand against the Vatican on a number of issues of the day was maverick for its time.
This man who graced the cover of Time magazine never lost sight of his vocation to remain a man who was simply an “educator in the faith,” even when he was tempted with the offer of wearing a bishop’s ring — he stayed the course that Christ laid out for him.
If you’re struggling with believing that the vocation of the priesthood is dead, this film will give you hope that our Church history of honorable clerics can be restored and hopefully inspire some young men to take the mantle for the next generation.
Check the listings to find a screening of this movie near you.
Copyright 2019 Sherry Hayes-Peirce