Clinton honors Hesburgh with Congressional Gold Medal
President Clinton signed legislation on Dec. 9, 1999 to award University president emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh the nation's highest honor bestowed upon civilians, the Congressional Gold Medal.
Now Public Law 106-153, the Father Theodore Hesburgh Congressional Gold Medal Act authorizes the President to give the medal to Hesburgh in recognition for his many outstanding contributions to civil rights, higher education, the Catholic Church and the nation.
Congressman Tim Roemer introduced legislation in the House of Representatives last May and sought the support of his 292 colleagues to cosponsor the legislation.
"The Congressional Gold Medal honors Americans accomplished in one area but Fater Hesburgh has three fields of integrity and honor. He has made outstanding contributions in the fields of religion, higher education and civil rights that is what caused me to push this award," Roemer said.
"I believe that this is the most appropriate time for Congress and the entire nation to join me in recognizing this remarkable man and living legend of freedom in America," Roemer said.
Roemer said that he considers Hesburgh's public service career to be as distinguished as his many contributions to education. Hesburgh served as Notre Dame's president from1952-1987. Holding 15 presidential appointments, Hesburgh's involvement ranged far and wide.
He was a charter member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights from its establishment in 1957 and chaired the commission from 1969 to 1972. He was also awarded the Medal of Freedom by Lyndon Johnson in 1964, another one of the nation's highest civilian honors.
During the 1980s, Hesburgh was also actively involved in a private initiative to unite international scientists and religious leaders in condemning nuclear weapons. Hesburgh also helped organize a meeting of 58 world-class scientists in Vatican City in 1982. This meeting not only called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, but it also brought together leaders of six faiths who agreed with the views of the scientists.
At the same time, Hesburgh is recognized as a national and international leader in higher education. He received his 140th and 141st honorary degrees this year, the most ever bestowed upon one person, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Since 1987, Hesburgh has served as president emeritus and his office is currently located on the 13th floor of the library.
"Notre Dame has been my whole life, since I arrived in 1934. The students are wonderful and they are the reason why ND exists. I love spending time with them no student comes to my door without getting in," said Hesburgh.
Hesburgh stepped down as head of Notre Dame in 1987, completing the longest tenure among active presidents of American universities.
"Despite his retirement, Hesburgh continues much as he did as the nation's senior university chief executive officer as a leading educator and humanitarian inspiring generations of students and citizens, and generously sharing his wisdom in the struggle for the rights of man," said Roemer.
Hesburgh has been a member of the United States Institute of Peace Board, which is attempting to solve problems in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Hesburgh considers his involvement in the Catholic Church to be the most important aspect of his life.
"I am very happy and honored to receive this award, but it is not something you live for or work for. The most important thing is trying to be good at everything you dofor me, being a priest is the most important thing in my life," said Hesburgh.
Hesburgh served the Catholic Church from 1965 to 1970 as a member of the Holy See's delegation to the United Nations and as the permanent Vatican representative to the Atomic Energy Agency on behalf of Congress.
Hesburgh's medal ceremony will most likely take place in spring or early summer in Washington, D.C. Specifically designed for Hesburgh, his medal will include two important parts of his life the seal of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and the seal of Notre Dame.
Created in 1776, the medal has been awarded to over 250 people. Recent recipients include the rev. Billy Graham Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and Colin Powell.
All News Stories for Monday, January 24, 2000