Kevin Embach

The Rev. Kevin Embach is pictured during his senior year at Notre Dame with the Rev. Theodore “Ted” Hesburgh

Presidents conferred with him. The pope took his call. Martin Luther King Jr. grasped his hand in Chicago, and together, and very publicly, they sang “We Shall Overcome.”

The Rev. Theodore “Ted” Hesburgh was everywhere, it seemed, in the 20th century. He advised President John F. Kennedy, among others. He advocated for civil rights. He pushed for including women at the formerly all-male Notre Dame University, which he led for 35 years.

He also pushed to make Notre Dame an academic stalwart and for academic freedom. He served on umpteen presidential commissions, Vatican missions and governmental and nonprofit boards.

During his long life, Hesburgh was a titan. He had big friends. He held big titles. He fought for big ideas. But always, said an Omaha priest and doctor, the Rev. Kevin Embach, Hesburgh saw himself first and foremost as this: a Catholic priest.

“He was a uniter,” Embach said. “He stayed above the politics. He was all about the gospel. And the world.”

Omahans can learn more about Hesburgh during a special screening of a documentary about his life released earlier this year. “Hesburgh” will be shown at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Film Streams in Dundee. The event, presented by the Notre Dame Club of Omaha, is open to the public and will include opening remarks from Embach, who is based at Creighton University.

Hesburgh served as Notre Dame's president from 1952 to 1987. Several of his visits to Omaha were well-publicized. At one point, he held 150 honorary degrees, more than anyone at the time. He died in 2015. 

Embach remembers Hesburgh as being friendly and nice and for working long hours. His office lights were on well past midnight.

The film ought to be of interest to Omaha’s Notre Dame community, which includes the 2,500 people on the local Notre Dame alumni club’s rolls, the 56 current undergraduate and graduate students from Omaha, and a Facebook estimate of some 25,000 Omahans who have said they’re interested in the school near South Bend, Indiana.