“What’s the difference between God and Father Hesburgh?” a reporter playfully asks her audience. “God’s everywhere and Hesburgh’s everywhere but Notre Dame” she fittingly responds.
It’s a fitting quip. One made all the more satisfying having spent an hour with this riotous and righteous man of the cloth. As it happens, Theodore Hesburgh is everywhere. The longtime president of Notre Dame used his powers of persuasion in Rome, in the White House, and in his own house. Some words paint a thousand pictures, Hesburgh’s could move a thousand lives.
One remarkable scene sees “Father Ted” make honest men of politicians (a miracle if you ask me). Getting a group of segregationists and blacks to agree on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the stuff aphoristic documentaries are made of.
“The longtime president of Notre Dame used his powers of persuasion in Rome, in the White House, and in his own house…”
Patrick Craedon’s skin-deep celebration of Hesburgh certainly falls under that category. It’s a predictable portrayal, seemingly more concerned with the man’s image as opposed to the man himself–but what an image! With slick black hair and a continuous smile, the father could pass for George Clooney if he had a chin the size of Nixon’s ego and a heart the size of the Pope’s hat. And in the 1950’s-1990’s you could find his image everywhere.
After a brief backstory, we jump right into his days at Notre Dame. Where he put the “Fighting” and “Irish” in the “Fighting Irish.” He was an Irishman who drank (no kidding), but also a priest who drank and enjoyed cigars. And it’s this progressiveness he brought to the school and his politics. Through a flurry of interviews and observations from the likes of Ted Koppel and Mary Frances Berry, along with Maurice LaMarche’s first-person voiceover, we come to understand his lifelong battle for equality, how he was able to bring diversity in race and gender to Notre Dame, how he was able to bring integrity to the Civil Rights Commission and how he was able to influence Nixon, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and the Pope.
“The difference maker in his documentary is the conviction in the writing…”
Honesty and faith, we are told is the answer. It’s also the answer to why we needed this doc in 2019. The world is a troubled one at the moment. And it probably always will be. Humanity’s cries are all around us, but the question becomes: Are we listening? Hesburgh would. His film is a reminder that it is up to us–the US– to stand up for what we believe. We can all make a difference.
The difference maker in his documentary is the conviction in the writing. Screenwriters Nick Andert, Jerry Barca, and William Neal have fastened a pace as swift and handsome as its subject. This is an informative doc that’s more concerned with being entertaining than explanatory. Homework, it is not. In the hands of a less experienced filmmaker, this would have been a chore. But the friendly tone and reformist style make this as welcome as a popes blessing.
Hesburgh (2019) Directed by Patrick Creadon. Written by Nick Andert, Jerry Baraca, William Neel. Starring Theodore Hesburgh, Laurice LaMarche, Mary Frances Bary, Ted Koppel