For over half a century, Robert Schmuhl interviewed and wrote about Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., who served as the president of the University of Notre Dame from 1952 until 1987. Beginning as an undergraduate student during the 1960s, when he covered Hesburgh and Notre Dame for the Associated Press, to 2014 when he conducted his last visit with the frail ninety-seven-year-old priest, Schmuhl maintained a unique relationship with Father Hesburgh. Over time, Hesburgh’s meetings with Schmuhl evolved into a friendship, which is documented in this personal and warmhearted portrait of the man who was for decades considered the most influential priest in America.
Fifty Years with Father Hesburgh: On and Off the Record contains excerpts and commentary from various interviews Schmuhl conducted with Father Hesburgh about his service as Notre Dame’s president, including the most difficult years of his presidency during the 1960s, when Notre Dame and other college campuses were in turmoil because of student protests against the Vietnam War and other issues. Knowing and working with four popes and nine U.S. presidents, Father Hesburgh was a moral force in virtually all major social issues of his day, including civil rights, peaceful uses of atomic energy, third-world development, and immigration reform. Schmuhl records Hesburgh’s candid reflections on the U.S. presidents with whom he worked and his assessment of the years after he left the university’s presidency and maintained an active life of service in retirement. Schmuhl expresses his devotion and respect in the chapters about Hesburgh’s twilight decades. He describes how Hesburgh dealt with macular degeneration and blindness in his later years, enlisting students to read the New York Times and other publications to him.
During the 1990s and the first years of the twenty-first century, Father Ted was, as he liked to say, “everybody’s grandfather.” His open-door policy extended beyond students to faculty, staff, alumni, and campus visitors, and continued right up until the end of his life. Throughout the book, Schmuhl captures the essence, spirit, and humanity of a great leader.
“Consider this slender book a mouth-watering appetizer for the volumes that will ultimately be written about Father Ted Hesburgh. If you knew the man, you will relish the fresh insights. If, somehow, you lived unaware in the same world with Father Ted, this book will be a revelation. Bob Schmuhl fails utterly in concealing his love and admiration for his friend of fifty years. Read on and you will understand why.” — Ted Koppel, news anchor and author of Lights Out
“For those of us who had the honor of knowing Father Ted, we will never forget his wry humor, sage advice, and infectious faith. For those who did not, this book offers a sense of the man who was a mentor to me and countless others.” — Condoleezza Rice, Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and former Secretary of State
“Father Hesburgh’s rock solid faith, character, and intellect changed Notre Dame, America, and the world forever. Robert Schmuhl’s book perfectly captures Father Ted’s amazing life.” — Joe Donnelly, United States Senator for Indiana
“Fr. Ted Hesburgh was arguably the most influential American Catholic of the last century. His charm and intellect propelled him to powerful leadership in spiritual, academic, political, and diplomatic circles. His friend and confidant Bob Schmuhl was uniquely positioned to report the candid reflections of this Priest for All Seasons over the last half of his life. The result will inform and inspire readers today and remain priceless for researchers tomorrow.” — Matthew V. Storin, former editor of the Boston Globe
“Much has been written of Father Hesburgh’s leadership roles in American religious life, Catholic education, intercollegiate sports, and civil rights, and this attractively written book now adds the personal reflections of a student, professor, and friend of Father Hesburgh over a period of fifty years. Robert Schmuhl is a professional interviewer, writer, and observer of the American scene, but in this work he is simply a friend, companion, and frequent visitor to Father Hesburgh’s office. Distinct from others, this work offers a personal, affectionate, behind-the-scenes picture of this remarkable priest, educator, and public official.” — Thomas Blantz, C.S.C., emeritus, University of Notre Dame
“Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, often made headlines when he served as Notre Dame’s president from 1952 to 1987. He was frequently interviewed by Schmuhl, the ND professor of American Studies and Journalism who covered him for various outlets and became a friend and confidant. This volume offers both excerpts and commentary from those interviews and a warmhearted view of the influential priest.” — Notre Dame Magazine
“Robert Schmuhl, the author of this book, is well known in Ireland for his insightful commentaries on American life and politics. . . . He first encountered Fr. Hesburgh in the late 1960s as a young Notre Dame undergraduate, who combined his studies with work as a ‘stringer’ for the Associated Press (AP) reporting on what was happening on campus. . . . Schmuhl’s book is a remarkable tribute to a man whom he confesses to have held in awe, and it succeeds admirably in showing why Theodore Hesburgh had earned that awe.” — Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review
“Schmuhl interviewed his mentor several times and these interviews are largely the source of this short ‘biographical memoir,’ a term Schmuhl uses to delineate between a memoir that would be about himself and a book about Father Hesburgh through his personal experience.” — The Compass News
“An impressively organized and presented, informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking read from beginning to end, Fifty Years with Father Hesburgh: On and off the Record is an extraordinary work and very strongly recommended for seminary and academic library American Biography collections in general and Christian Studies supplemental studies reading lists in particular. A ‘must’ read for anyone who admires Father Hesburgh.” — Midwestbookreview.com
“As I looked back at a half-century of watching and working with [Hesburgh], I was struck, again and again, by the variety of experiences in his life and the centrality of his faith (as well as moral concerns) to everything he did. . . . At a time when our politics and civic life have become so polarized, he sought to bridge differences whenever that was possible and to operate from the center. . . . Among his many talents, Hesburgh was a gifted storyteller.” — IrishCentral