Photographing "Father Ted"



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Hesburgh with donors at a Challenge Rally fundraiser, 1961
 [This month's Cushwa post is by Todd C. Ream, who is Professor of Higher Education at Taylor University. Todd's current research is on the life and writings of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame from 1952-1987. While he has several projects ongoing, we asked him to offer some thoughts on the rationale for and method of a book of photos of Hesburgh that he's currently assembling. We're illustrating the post with three of these photos drawn from the ND archives, with thanks to archivist Charles Lamb for his help in obtaining these versions.

Speaking of Hesburgh, we'll announce the first round of grants for research in his papers shortly. Since this is a new opportunity, we're still trying to widely circulate news of their availability. If you're interested in religion in/and American higher education, and/or in any of the governmental commissions Hesburgh participated in, the papers are particularly rich sources and we encourage you to apply for research support.]


Todd C. Ream

Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C., who died last year at the age of 97, was among the most celebrated university presidents of the 20th century, and perhaps in American history. Several of my current projects aim at documenting and analyzing his life in higher education. His tenure as the leader of the University of Notre Dame spanned 35 years (1952-1987) and arced through the most tumultuous era in the history of higher education—the late 1960s through the early 1970s. While an inability to manage campus unrest led to an unprecedented number of his contemporaries losing their positions, Hesburgh was a portrait of stability.

Stability, however, was far from the only quality Hesburgh offered Notre Dame, as other numbers also paint a portrait of unprecedented transformation. During his tenure the university’s faculty grew from 350 to 950, student enrollment climbed from 4,979 to 9,600, the annual operating budget went from $9.7 million to $176 million, the endowment jumped from $9 million to $350 million, and funding for research (much of it generated through the accession of federal grants) soared from $735,000 to $15 million. Over 40 new buildings were also added on campus during his presidency along with countless renovation projects. The university's population and organization also transformed; Hesburgh oversaw the transition to coeducation in 1972, and in 1967, he overhauled the university’s governance structure by creating a two-tiered board that welcomed laypersons among members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross who had led the institution since its founding by Edward Sorin, C.S.C., in 1842. Hesburgh also, of course, held a position of tremendous influence as a public intellectual, having an active presence in debates surrounding issues such as science and technology, civil and human rights, and foreign relations and peace. At the core of his commitment to these issues was his vocation as a priest, a vocation forged in the practice of the Church’s sacraments.

Part of the challenge that comes in terms of assessing Hesburgh’s legacy is simply where to begin. Exhaustive biography? Anthologies of writing and speeches? Edited volumes drawing scholars from all the diverse fields touched by Hesburgh under a common cover? I hope to explore all those options eventually. However, I've chosen to begin with an often overlooked aspect of biography: reviewing the manner in which Hesburgh’s legacy was recorded in photographs.

Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1964
As previously indicated, Hesburgh was both an active participant in and a witness to history.  He counseled presidents, worked to draft pieces of historic legislation, conferred with popes, led construction projects of unprecedented size, and occasionally even participated as an activist.  Many of those efforts were caught on film, and they offer not only a sense of who Hesburgh was as a person and what it might have been like to participate in some of these events, but also how his legacy, like those of so many other public figures, was already being established. As a result, I chose to begin my focus on Father Hesburgh by reviewing all of the available photographs that chronicle his life, reading through all of the materials that pertain to those particular photos—particularly first-hand accounts from Hesburgh’s writings, and pulling all of those details together in a common volume or photographic portrait.

I'm currently working on a volume drawn primarily from the University of Notre Dame Archives.  Prior to Hesburgh’s death on February 26, 2015, the archives already housed thousands of images of Hesburgh.  After his passing, the images in his personal collection were transferred to the archives and, to date, most of those images have not been seen by the public.  Originally stored in cigar boxes with notes detailing the significance of many of the images, Hesburgh’s personal photos greatly add to what was already a robust collection in the archives.

One of the most rewarding possibilities for the significance of this volume is that Hesburgh’s personal collection also includes negatives for hundreds of medium-format film (or 120 film) photos Hesburgh took while on various trips.  Those negatives are currently being processed by officials in the archives and in the near future will become available for review. I'm exploring other options too: contacting Hesburgh's relatives in the hopes of including images of Hesburgh's family and childhood; exploring various ecclesial and federal archives.

As a result, the challenge will not be locating enough pictures to populate this volume.  In contrast, the challenge will be determining which photos, in particular, to include in a volume seeking to be comprehensive yet ultimately not exhaustive -- or exhausting. Right now, therefore, my focus is on method: as I winnow the photos I'm seeking to answer three questions. First, in what way(s) does the photo communicate something about how Hesburgh lived understood his vocation as a priest?  Second, in what way(s) does the photo communicate something about his leadership of the University of Notre Dame? Third, in what way(s) does the photo communicate something about his engagement in the issues of his day?  Of course, the quality of the photograph will also play a role but aesthetics points of consideration will prove to be secondary to these three questions.

And one final thought -- if anyone has any great photos of Hesburgh to contribute, please get in touch!

Party for families housed at "Vetville," a temporary veterans' community on the Notre Dame campus (approximately where the Hesburgh Library currently stands), c. 1950.


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