I had the great fortune to have a "one-on-one" meeting with Fr. Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C., in his legendary office atop the building that carries his name. An experience I will never forget...
Here's the story: I had been employed about two months at the University of Notre Dame (March 2012) when I was approached by a colleague of mine, Linda Costas. Linda works in the HR Department for the University -- Linda and her significant other Digger Phelps, had a very close relationship with Fr. Ted. Linda asked me if I'd like to meet with Fr. Ted -- a wonderful gesture on her part -- I jumped at the chance. So, Linda arranges for me to get on Fr. Ted's schedule -- Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 2:30 PM ET. Now, let's fast forward a few weeks to Tuesday, April 10, 2012 -- another colleague of mine, Fr. Ralph Haag, C.S.C., asks me late that afternoon "what are you bringing for Fr. Ted to bless tomorrow?" I had never given this a single thought -- I was thinking only about meeting Fr. Ted and the questions I would ask. To this day, I am forever grateful to Fr. Ralph for putting that thought in my head. That night after work, I ran over to the Notre Dame Hammes Bookstore looking for items I could have Fr. Ted bless. At the time we were building a new home just a couple blocks from campus, so I thought I'd buy something that I could prominently display in the house -- and, I'd buy something I could have on me every day... I purchased a small replica of the Main Building's "Golden Dome" -- and a necklace with a medal of Our Lady. THE DAY OF MY MEETING WITH FATHER TED The big day finally arrives -- I get to work early, so I can write a little bio about myself. Linda told me I needed to hand my bio to Fr. Ted's assistant Melanie Chapleau when I arrived -- so she could read it to Fr. Ted before our meeting. I also heard this from a colleague that morning -- "you should expect your meeting with Fr. Ted will last no more than ten minutes, he'll tell you when time's up and say good-bye..." So, now I'm worried... I've got ten minutes to ask this great man -- as much as I can. Now, I've lived a lucky life -- working closely with some of the biggest names in the sports and corporate world throughout my career. Being in the company of "celebrity" had never fazed me. But, this was different... It's Fr. Ted Hesburgh, "Mr. Notre Dame", "the man who has had the ear of every U.S. President since Eisenhower", "Mr. Guinness Book of World Records holder for most honorary degrees", "the man who locked arms with Martin Luther King," etc. So, I decide I better prepare a list of questions for Fr. Ted (in order of importance) because my time could be limited. It should be noted I had never done this before in my career -- and I've never since... I was also under the assumption that Fr. Ted couldn't see because he was suffering from Macular Degeneration -- a disease that left my late-Grandma Doyle blind for many years before she too passed away at the age of 97 in 2011. So, I felt safe carrying in a piece of paper to the meeting with these questions, without Fr. Ted knowing. Well, that plan soon changed. I arrive at exactly 2:21 PM ET to Fr. Ted's office on the 13th floor of this iconic building named in his honor. I immediately received a warm greeting from his long-time assistant Melanie Chapleau. Melanie tells me "Fr. Ted is being interviewed by a TV crew and he should just be a couple more minutes..." So, I grab a seat in the waiting area and begin checking out all of the memorabilia on the tables and walls. Minutes later a side door to this office suite opens up and here comes Fr. Ted -- using the aid of a walker -- walking right past me. And, without the help of anyone he deftly maneuvers a left, right and left turn into his office... "HE CAN SEE!" -- is what I'm thinking to myself. I panic (just a little) because I don't want Fr. Ted to see I had prepared a list of questions. I figured if he saw it, he might make this a TEN SECOND MEETING... As this is going on inside my head -- Melanie gets up from her chair (with my BIO in hand) and tells me "I need a couple of minutes with Fr. Ted and then he'll be ready for you." Well, I quickly take a look at my long list of questions -- try to commit them to memory -- and I fold up the sheet and slide it into my suit coat pocket. Melanie soon appears around the corner and says "Fr. Ted is ready for you Jim..." I stand up and begin walking that same path Fr. Ted had just handled with great ease. I turn the corner and here's an open door with Fr. Ted sitting behind his desk, lit cigar in hand -- looking right at me -- with this big window over his left shoulder with the most beautiful view of the Golden Dome that I had ever seen. I walk towards Fr. Ted, and as I'm doing so, he finds a way to get to his feet to shake my hand. A chair had been set up for me -- also behind his desk. I sit down and he asks me to move it closer -- I do as I'm told and I'm sitting no more than 3 feet away from Fr. Ted (in a constant cloud of cigar smoke) when we start our conversation. Fr. Ted immediately starts asking me questions about my family, then he moves to asking me questions about Notre Dame. It was minutes before, I could ask my first question -- and surprisingly, this is what I asked him -- and it wasn't on my sheet: "Fr. Ted, I didn't think you could see, but I just saw you walk right into your office with no problem -- so you can see?" He then, in great detail, explained what vision he had (it was very little) in each of his eyes, which led to a conversation about my Grandma Doyle who also suffered from Macular Degeneration. It's probably safe to assume not many have led with or, even asked Fr. Ted that question before -- yet, he was gracious and very thorough with his answer. (yeah, I'm an idiot) This led into my prepared questions about his "quest to break the record for fastest flight in an aircraft" -- "accepting women at Notre Dame", "what he hopes for Notre Dame," "what advice he would give me for my time at Notre Dame," etc,. I can't accurately recall all that Fr. Ted said that day -- so I won't try -- but, I can say it was a moment in time I will take with me forever. I do know that our conversation extended well beyond TEN MINUTES that day -- in fact, I was worried about how long it was going... As I got up to leave -- I almost forgot to ask Fr. Ted to bless my Golden Dome and necklace/medal. When I asked, he said "sure -- place it right here" as he pointed at a little panel that slid out from under his desk. I set the items where I was asked and Fr. Ted placed his hands over them and said a prayer of blessing. Fr. Ted then stood up again -- not an easy thing for him to do -- and asked "can I give you a blessing?" I moved towards him -- he placed a hand on my head -- and he gave me his blessing. A wonderful moment for me. When Fr. Ted completed his blessing -- I asked if I could give him a hug and we embraced, tears in my eyes... As I got to the door to leave -- I remembered I wanted one last thing -- a photo of Fr. Ted holding that Golden Dome. I turned back, asked Fr. Ted if he didn't mind posing for a quick photo holding the dome and he agreed -- the proof is above.
I'll never forget this day for the rest of my life.
Thank you FATHER TED -- you were a gift to the world.
Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion will be packed tonight for a Memorial Tribute to Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. If you don't have a CREDENTIAL -- you can watch it LIVE online and on local TV in the South Bend area.
The list of speakers include:
Former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice '75
Senator Joe Donnelly '77 & '81
Former Senators Alan Simpson & Harris Wofford
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
Indiana Governor Mike Pence
There were a few tickets still available this morning -- they are FREE -- to tonight's Memorial Tribute. You can pick them up at the Murnane Ticket Office at Purcell Pavilion.
Former Notre Dame All-American, National Champion, First Round NFL Draft Pick (#5 overall) and Super Bowl Champion -- Todd Lyght -- was introduced today as the new defensive backs coach for the Fighting Irish!