Wednesday, September 4, 2019
Over at Public Discourse, my friend and co-author Lee Strang and I recently published a review of Rev. Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C.'s book American Priest, a biography of Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. We wrote the review not only because the book is deserving a wide readership, but also as part of our ongoing book-project on the history of American Catholic legal education.
Father Ted is, of course, the man who, as president of the University of Notre Dame from 1952-1987, worked to transform the school from an unremarkable men's Catholic college (better known for its football than its academics) into one of America's elite universities. As much as anyone, Hesburgh is responsible for changing the face of Catholic higher education in the United States.
For all the changes he helped to bring about, Father Hesburgh enjoys the reputation of a visionary, and a man of great ambition. Surely some of this reputation is well deserved. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, we believe that the conclusion to be drawn from Father Miscamble's book is that Father Ted lacked the vision and imagination necessary to achieve the goal that Hesburgh set for himself: to make Notre Dame into a truly great university (as measured by the standard's of the secular academy) and one that is at the same time authentically Catholic. Father Hesburgh seems to have thought that the ongoing Catholic identity of a Catholic university could be assured simply by hosting a theology department, supporting an active campus ministry, and fostering a sense of community in student residential life. While each of these qualities is important, the goal of a "great Catholic university" simply cannot be attained absent the thoughtful implementation of practical strategies in the hiring and retention of faculty that are designed to build and sustain a community of Catholic intellectuals.
We encourage everyone to read the review and Father Miscamble's excellent book.