Father Ted’s 100th Bday

Today would have been Rev. Theodore Hesburgh’s 100th birthday. Most of you know of Fr. Ted’s considerable impact on American civil rights and immigration, his counsel to Presidents and Popes, and his commitment to Catholic higher education. I’d like to share his impact on this small corner of the planet here in the Andes Mountains…

In 1984, as a recent Notre Dame graduate long on dreams but short on direction, Fr. Ted took the time to meet with me. He ended up suggesting I volunteer with a group of Jesuits he knew who were working in Ecuador. His direction proved to be the opportunity of a lifetime, leading me to a vocation, a mission, and my future wife and family. But he didn’t stop there. He made my dreams of becoming a doctor possible, arranging for his friend Ann Landers and others to provide my medical training at Tulane, with a specific emphasis on the study of tropical medicine.

That was just the beginning. This month doesn’t just mark what would have been his 100th birthday, it marks the 20th year of Andean Health & Development: a project he not only supported, but served as Chairman of our board. He willed and drove this organization to fruition, always encouraging me to think bigger, to reach for more ways to serve these neglected people. And to trust that the Holy Spirit would make it possible.

This vision drew remarkable Ecuadorians like Dr. Diego Herrera to our project. Like me, Diego experienced firsthand the impact and inspiration of Fr. Ted. Pictures and letters from Fr. Ted fill his living room and he has read more about Fr. Hesburgh than anyone in the country of Ecuador, even me. Given his profound impact, it was only natural we would name our new hospital in Santo Domingo “Hesburgh Hospital.”

Over two decades, Andean Health & Development has attracted hundreds of exceptional Ecuadorian employees and trained sixty physicians who’ve treated over 175,000 patients in historically underserved rural communities; people who would otherwise lack the most basic health and family services.

And it all started with Fr. Ted, and the time he took to plant a vision for a better, more hopeful world. He may no longer be with us physically, but we feel his presence, his faith, and his enduring love everyday.

A few weeks ago, I was standing in Hesburgh Hospital’s lobby, trying to tell this story to a visitor as we stood before the mural of Fr. Ted. I faltered; I couldn’t finish his story; the words wouldn’t come. And I think that’s how it should be. Because this story is far from finished. I know in my heart, and I know if he were here, he’d tell me; Andean Health & Development’s most meaningful work lies ahead of us.

As it always will.

For that’s how Fr. Ted wanted it.

– David

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