‘Hesburgh’ captures the simple faith and outsized influence of ‘Father Ted’

Kathleen Cummings, who is the director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, walked into her last class of the 2019 school year with a sense of sadness about her seniors.

Theirs is the first Notre Dame class in more than 65 years to graduate without having the chance to know the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president of the school from 1952 to 1987, who died the year they entered as freshmen in 2015.

“They have no living experience of him,” Cummings said. “And this is just the beginning.”

A new documentary titled simply “Hesburgh,” which opens nationwide today (May 3), may be the closest Cummings’ seniors will get to understanding this legendary but sometimes overlooked figure.

“Hesburgh” is only the most recent vehicle aimed at keeping Hesburgh’s memory alive.

In 2016, Robert Schmuhl wrote “Fifty Years with Father Hesburgh: On and Off the Record,” which was re-released in 2018 with new information. In March 2019, the Rev. Wilson Miscamble released a more measured portrait, “American Priest: The Ambitious Life and Conflicted Legacy of Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh.”

But putting Hesburgh on the screen will expose more people to the disarming combination of humility and authority that made the man known as “Father Ted” a force in a troubled time for the United States.

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