Father Theodore Hesburgh

US #5241 was issued for Father Hesburgh’s 100th birthday.

Reverend Theodore Martin Hesburgh was born on May 25, 1917, in Syracuse, New York. 

Hesburgh knew he wanted to be a priest since he was six years old.  After attending Most Holy Rosary High School, he enrolled in the Holy Cross Seminary at Notre Dame.  He performed so well there, his instructors sent him to Rome, Italy to attend the Pontifical Gregorian University.  Hesburgh returned to the US in 1940 and earned his doctorate in sacred theology in 1945. 

US #5242 is a coil version of the sheet stamp above.

Hesburgh was ordained a priest in 1943 and was inspired by an inscription at Notre Dame’s Sacred Heart Church to dedicate his life to “God, Country, and Notre Dame.”  He began teaching at the school in 1945 and three years later was made head of the Department of Theology.

In 1952, Father Hesburgh began his 35-year Notre Dame presidency and quickly set a goal of turning the school into one of the best colleges in America.  Up until that point, the school was mostly known for its football program, but Hesburgh sought to transform the school “into a nationally respected institute of higher learning.”  Under Hesburgh’s leadership, Notre Dame introduced the Distinguished Professors Program, to encourage top educators to come and teach there.  While head of the university, Hesburgh doubled enrollments, brought in millions of dollars in research grants and admitted Notre Dame’s first female students in 1972.

US #UX157 was issued for Notre Dame’s 150th anniversary.

While Notre Dame held much of his attention, Father Hesburgh still found time to travel and advocate for different causes.  He received 16 presidential appointments in his lifetime, worked with the United Nations and even represented the Vatican.  Hesburgh opposed nuclear weapons, improved human rights in developing countries and was a founding member of the Civil Rights Commission.  In 1964, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his Civil Rights Commission work.  He also stood with Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago and spoke about his hope for the Civil Rights Act to pass and segregation to be outlawed.

US #5241 – Fleetwood First Day Cover.

After retiring from the presidency of Notre Dame in 1987, Hesburgh wrote his autobiography and developed five institutions, including Notre Dame’s Center for Civil and Human Rights and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.  Hesburgh earned the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999 for “his outstanding and enduring contributions to civil rights, higher education, the Catholic Church, the nation, and the global community.”

US #5241 – Fleetwood First Day Cover with Digital Color Postmark.

Father Hesburgh died on February 26, 2015.  Several buildings, scholarships, and programs at Notre Dame have been named in his honor.  He also holds the world’s record for the person with most honorary degrees with more than 150. 

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
Share this Article


  1. Interesting article about Father Hesburgh. I have followed sports at Norte Dame for years and knew that it was a well respected university but did not know of the man who guided it for 35 years. Great leadership. Thank you Mystic.

    1. So glad to know the background for this stamp–I had wondered about it from the time it came out. As an academic myself, it is wonderful to learn of the stories of other academics and how they have impacted the world.

  2. This background on Father Theodore Hesburg and his 35year Notre Dame career success and accomplishments including his leading contributions to civil rights and better education to improve our Nation and its citizens. is outstanding ! Thanks, Mystic !!

  3. I ad the opportunity to meet Fr Hesburgh on a number of occcasions. He was one of the most impressive individuals I ever met. What ever he did for the University of Notre Dame, the Church and this Country was fantastic. However the most important part of his life was being a priest. He was great and called all Notre Dame people to contibute to whatever community they were involved with.

  4. It’s interesting that we spend so much time end effort in sports, without
    acknowledging the contributions and especially the person(s) that have
    made, or at least attempted to make our society and world a better place.

  5. I have to speak up. Yes,he’s responsible for some pretty good achievements, but in my lengthy study of the Bible over 40 years, I have not found any priests or any of the “set ups” that was started by Jesus Christ in the first century church! It’s all in the scriptures of the Bible. When we are babtised we become saints of HIS Church, when we become old enough to understand why, not as babies who are not old enough to know right from wrong. I wish there was a stamp for preachers who spoke with truth as the Bible speaks it!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *