Hesburgh Library to celebrate 50th anniversary

by Michael O. Garvey

Hesburgh Library 50th anniversary

The University of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Library will mark its 50th anniversary with a slate of events during the 2013-14 academic year in celebration of the library’s enduring mission of connecting people to knowledge and the vital contributions the Hesburgh Libraries have made to the advancement of Notre Dame, its faculty, students and alumni.

A ceremony inaugurating the 50th anniversary celebration will be held Friday (Sept. 20) from 4 to 6 p.m. in the library’s Richard and Margaret Carey Courtyard.

The ceremony, immediately preceding the Michigan State football game pep rally on the library mall, will include remarks by Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president; Thomas G. Burish, University provost; and Diane Parr Walker, Edward H. Arnold University Librarian.

"Word of Life" mural (aka "Touchdown Jesus")

“The heart of any great university is its library,” Father Jenkins said. “The growth of the Hesburgh Library over the last half century reflects our aspiration to be the world’s preeminent Catholic research university, and on its 50th anniversary we are proud and grateful for the many ways both the library and Notre Dame have flourished.”

“The intellectual, academic and cultural life of Notre Dame as we know and enjoy it would not be imaginable were it not for the establishment and development of the Hesburgh Library," said Burish.

Designed by the Ellerbe Becket firm of St. Paul, Minn., and completed in 1963, the Hesburgh Library is named in honor of Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president emeritus, who provided the vision for the library as the academic heart of the University. At 13 stories and 210 feet tall, the building was the largest college library in the world when it opened. Now joined with several other libraries on campus — collectively called the Hesburgh Libraries — it contains more than 3.4 million print volumes, 442,000 e-books and 77,500 unique journal titles. The “Word of Life” mural (known affectionately to many as “Touchdown Jesus”) on the south side of the building is a mosaic 134 feet high and 68 feet wide, composed of 324 panels and 6,700 separate pieces of granite. Designed by architect and artist Millard Sheets, the mural depicts scholars throughout the ages sharing knowledge from one generation to the next. The mural’s story is a fitting symbol of the library’s mission of “connecting people to knowledge” and has become as much of a global icon as Notre Dame’s storied Golden Dome.

“This important milestone gives us the opportunity to reflect on our past — and on Father Hesburgh’s original vision that this library building and its now world famous ‘Word of Life’ mural would stand as a symbol of academic excellence and the pursuit of knowledge,” Walker said. “This look back anchors our renewed vision as we create a 21st-century library that will inspire intellectual inquiry and academic excellence for the next 50 years and beyond.”

Hesburgh Library

In addition to the Sept. 20 ceremony, the yearlong celebration will also begin with the first event in the Hesburgh Libraries Lecture Series, “The Story Behind ‘Touchdown Jesus’ — Millard Sheets: An Artist’s Journey to the ‘Word of Life,’” presented by art historian and scholar Janet Blake, who will also lead a walking tour to view the mural. The lecture, which will be presented at 4 p.m. Sept. 27 (Friday) in the library’s William J. Carey Auditorium, is free and open to the public.

More information about the yearlong 50th anniversary celebration is available online at 50years.library.nd.edu.

Contact: Tara O’Leary, Hesburgh Libraries, 574-631-1856, toleary2@nd.edu