Words of Life

Celebrating 50 Years of the Hesburgh Library’s Message, Mural, and Meaning

Bill Schmitt

This book celebrates the University of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Library and its fifty years as a place of evolving service, powerful symbolism, and collaboration. It tells the history of the Library in terms of its meaning to all those who designed it, helped it to become a reality, imbued it with a distinctive identity, and pointed it toward the future. The text by Bill Schmitt and photographs from the University Archives and university photographers give the reader a new appreciation for a building that is central to the university’s history and therefore important to supporters of Notre Dame as a place of special value.

Schmitt begins with the Library’s dedication day in 1964 and explores what the new building meant to Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., who as president of Notre Dame played a key role in its construction and in defining its characteristics and place at Notre Dame. The book focuses especially on the building’s best-known feature, the iconic mural named The Word of Life but better known to many as “Touchdown Jesus.” Included in the book are numerous photos that transport the reader to the past and enhance an appreciation of the mural and the building for us today.

Bill Schmitt is communications and media specialist for the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Football Weekends at Notre Dame: Snapshots and Traditions (University of Notre Dame Press, 2008).

“This is a book for all members of the Notre Dame family because so much of what’s beloved about the University, its mission, its traditions, and its vision for the future can be found somehow represented in the Hesburgh Library and its dynamic life of 50 years and counting. As with his previous book about Fighting Irish football gameday experiences, Bill Schmitt makes the connections that Notre Dame celebrates—connections between faith and fun, yesterday and today, and great learning and great living.” — Chuck Lennon, retired executive director, Notre Dame Alumni Association

“This story of Notre Dame’s library, built by and named for Father Ted Hesburgh, the university’s president emeritus, provides fascinating information about the impressive building and the great man who built it. The book is a must read for anyone associated with Notre Dame and others who come on fall Saturdays to see ‘Touchdown Jesus’ on the library and the Fighting Irish on the field.” — Jack Colwell, South Bend Tribune columnist

“The story behind the Hesburgh Library’s The Word of Life mural speaks volumes about Notre Dame’s development and advancement as a university with a uniquely distinctive mission not only in America but also in the world. Through carefully chosen words and pictures, Words of Life documents how a single work of art came to symbolize the dreams and achievements of the school where it commands its warranted attention.” — Robert Schmuhl, author of The University of Notre Dame: A Contemporary Portrait


“Informed and informative. . . . Highly recommended reading for anyone who has admired this beautifully crafted and maintained academic library, Words of Life would also serve well as a template for memorializing the history and achievements of other academic libraries elsewhere in the country.” — Library Bookwatch

“The library at the University of Notre Dame has a rich history—from Father Ted Hesburgh who built . . . the library to “Touchdown Jesus.” Words of Life shares the keys to the development and advancement of the university’s mission and traditions throughout the world.” — USCatholic.org