SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — It's hard to explain how often the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh played a providential role in the events of his life during his 35 years as president of the University of Notre Dame, the priest who succeeded him said Tuesday night.
The Rev. Edward Malloy told the approximately 1,000 people attending Hesburgh's wake that an example of that was how Hesburgh became a charter member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and locked arms with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at a 1964 rally in Chicago even though he didn't have a background in civil rights.
"He wasn't so much a specialist in any one thing, but he learned about science because it was important. He learned about civil rights because how else could he effectively play that role," said Malloy, who retired in 2005 after 18 years as president of the university.
Malloy also recalled how Hesburgh took over a school that was unremarkable academically and without much money and transformed it.
"His aspirations were high, but the resources were low. So one of the things inevitably, he had to be a proclaimer of what Notre Dame could be," Malloy said.
A steady stream of mourners passed through the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on campus to pay their respects to Hesburgh, stopping briefly before the open casket adorned with a depiction of the Golden Dome that sits atop the building where he worked and the words "God, Country, Notre Dame," the title of his autobiography.
Bill Dusseau of LaPorte recalled meeting Hesburgh, who died Thursday at the age of 97, two years ago at the library named after the man who served as Notre Dame's president from 1952 to 1987.
"I was so impressed. He's got to be one of the holiest people on the face of the Earth. He's got to be No. 2 to the pope," he said. "It's just amazing what he did in his lifetime. He will be ordained a saint someday."
Malloy finished by describing Hesburgh as a great and holy priest.
"You have been our pastor at Notre Dame as you have for the country and the world. Now, go to God, and may you rest in peace," he said.