Honoring Father Hesburgh's Legacy


The passing of Ted Hesburgh has touched us all very deeply. We here at Michigan State University are especially saddened by his death. The University of Notre Dame and Michigan State University have been and always will be inextricably connected in so many ways.

Nowhere else is this connection more alive than in the relationship that existed between Father Hesburgh and former MSU President John Hannah. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say both men are 20th-century legends. One turned a great Catholic university into a Catholic great university. The other turned a great land-grant university into a land-grant great university.

But beyond their extraordinary contributions to higher education and the pursuit of knowledge, both men established themselves as leaders in the fight for civil rights and the dignity of all human beings. Dr. Hannah chaired the first Civil Rights Commission, established in 1954 by President Dwight Eisenhower. Father Hesburgh was a member of that group.



The commission made recommendations to eliminate discrimination in areas such as education, voting and housing. The commission overcame its political differences and presented to President Johnson the framework for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

It’s also important to note that Father Hesburgh was president of Notre Dame in 1972, the year the university became a co-educational institution, allowing women the same opportunity as men to pursue a better life through higher education.

We were honored to have Father Hesburgh visit Michigan State many times. Few will forget his commencement address to graduating Spartans. It was during the unrest of the 1960s when he shocked parents by telling them their kids needed two things from them: "Give them love and laughter."

Early on when I was provost at MSU, I had dinner with Father Hesburgh. We talked about a wide range of issues, including social justice. It was absolutely extraordinary to hear his reflections on the connections and partnerships with MSU that were value-centric.

He embodied a unique combination of reflection, strength and action. It’s hard to imagine the number of lives positively impacted by his work over the years.

While we at Michigan State, as well as millions of others who honor the legacy of Father Hesburgh, mourn his death, we also celebrate his life. We are grateful for his contributions to higher education, civil rights and his church. We also are humbled that the path this great man took through life led to and through East Lansing.

We offer our thoughts, prayers and condolences to his family, the Notre Dame community, and everyone in this world who was fortunate enough to feel the influence of his greatness.


Sesquicentennial audio interview with Father Hesburgh

University of Notre Dame: Explore Father Hesburgh's Extraordinary Life

"MSU Alumni Magazine: John Hannah's Historic Role in Advancing Civil Rights" by Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. (PDF)



MSU on Social


President's Desk




Speeches & Statements