Hesburgh sought Ratzinger for spot on ND faculty

by Margaret Fosmoe

SOUTH BEND — Decades ago, the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh sought to hire an impressive young German theologian for the University of Notre Dame’s theology faculty.p. That young German, the Rev. Joseph Ratzinger, declined the offer.p. On Tuesday, Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.p. Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s president emeritus, estimates he first heard about Ratzinger’s work in the early 1960s. At the time, Hesburgh was trying to build up the reputation of the university’s theology faculty.p. “I was searching around the world for an up-and-coming theologian,” Hesburgh said in an interview Tuesday. He wrote a letter of invitation to the young German cleric, inviting him to join the faculty for a year or permanently.p. "He wrote back, ’I’d love to come, but I don’t think my English is good enough yet,’ " Hesburgh said.p. The rest is history. Ratzinger went on to become an archbishop, then a cardinal and now pope.p. “My guess is he’s going to be a very intelligent and personable pope. He was picked because of the intervention of the Holy Spirit,” said Hesburgh, who will turn 88 next month.p. In the decades since the Notre Dame job offer, Ratzinger’s command of English has improved greatly, Hesburgh said. The new pontiff also speaks German, French and Italian.p. “He has a pretty good start on the world’s languages. My guess is, like John Paul II, he’s going to belong to the world,” Hesburgh said, referring to the late pope’s extensive travels.p. Hesburgh was in the dentist’s chair Tuesday when he heard the news that white smoke was seen above the Vatican, signaling the election of the new pope. He wasn’t surprised that the new pontiff was selected by the College of Cardinals in just two days.p. “Apparently they agreed this was a man who could pick up the mantle of John Paul. I wish him well and I’ll pray for him every day,” Hesburgh said.p. Hesburgh recalled his own experience as a young man standing in St. Peter’s Square in 1939, when Pius XII became pope. “It’s a big thrill to stand there and see that white smoke go up and get the papal blessing,” the priest said.p. The elderly priest said it’s exciting to witness the naming of the new pope.p. “It’s a day to remember,” Hesburgh said, “and we can all be glad that we were around to see it.”

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