“Hesburgh,” a critically-acclaimed feature-length documentary directed by Patrick Creadon (of Wordplay and Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story), is an inspiring portrait of the incredible life of Father Ted. Throughout his tenure as president of the University of Notre Dame coinciding with a pivotal stretch of American history, the philosopher, educator, visionary, and priest was once labeled as the most influential man in America.
Father Hesburgh found himself in the midst of the Civil Rights movement on stage with Martin Luther King Jr, mediating between the United States and the USSR during nuclear disarmament talks, and managing civil unrest during the Vietnam era. A true conciliator with political savvy, through it all he bridged divides and brought together the unlikeliest of friends.
Narrated in the first person with Hesburgh’s own words from his memoirs and autobiography, from the age of 6 he knew he wanted to be a priest. During World War II, he wanted to be a Navy chaplain, but the Church had other plans for him: he got his PhD from the Catholic University of America and eventually become the president of Notre Dame.
He immediately began efforts to transform the university into “into a nationally respected institution of higher learning,” transitioning to coeducation and overseeing dramatic growth. As a fundraiser, he was in the company of oil CEOs, airline executives, even Coca-Cola. His efforts were noticed by the Eisenhower administration, earning him a spot on the Civil Rights Commission.
“I believe that civil rights were not created, but only recognized and formulated by our Federal and State constitutions and charters. Civil rights are important corollaries of the great proposition that every human person is a res sacra, a sacred reality, and as such is entitled to the opportunity of fulfilling those great human potentials with which God has endowed every man.”
A champion for civil rights and later chairman of the commission, he worked with three administrations: Presidents Eisenhower, JFK, and LBJ to spearhead the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. A vocal activist, he only responded “when should I be there?” when invited to give a speech at rally with Martin Luther King, Jr despite being aware of threats on his life. Challenging the infamous racist Montgomery, Alabama sheriff, he said on live TV: “Has there ever been, in history, a good society built on fear?”
The film features interviews with Senator Alan Simpson, former Commission on Civil Rights Chair Mary Frances Berry, Ted Koppel, and Hesburgh’s personal driver all testifying to the “ordinary” man with an “extraordinary ability to reach across lines.”
The film also touches on his friendship with Pope Pius IV and the time they watched private NASA space tapes, his time serving on the Rockefeller Foundation Board, his friendship with “Ask Ann Landers,” his time on the National Science Board and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and his championing of Catholic universities in the US.
The film does not go into great detail about some of the more controversial aspects of Hesburgh’s life, such as the Land O’Lakes Statement or bestowing on President Obama an honorary degree, it does paint a picture of his vast influence.
By the time he passed in 2015, Father Ted had been awarded 150 honorary degrees, 16 presidential appointments, the Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. Read the synopsis and watch the trailer below. To learn more about the incredible Father “Ted” Hesburgh, visit the official website for the documentary https://www.hesburghfilm.com/
About The Film
“Hesburgh offers a unique glimpse at more than fifty years of American history as seen through the eyes of the long-time president of the University of Notre Dame and America’s most well-known priest. Educator, civil rights champion, advisor to presidents, envoy to popes, theologian and activist, Hesburgh was called on by countless world leaders to tackle the most challenging issues of the day. He built a reputation as a savvy political operator with a penchant for bridging the divide between bitter enemies. Through it all, he remained a man armed with a fierce intelligence, a quick wit and an unyielding moral compass — a timeless example of bipartisan leadership that would serve us in today’s increasingly polarized times. Hesburgh, a feature-length documentary film from award-winning filmmakers Patrick Creadon and Christine O’Malley, examines the challenges and triumphs of one of the most influential leaders in American history.”