“We’re Glad You’re Here” read the sign draped on the South Dining Hall when the first women undergraduates enrolled at Notre Dame in 1972. Thirty-five years later, almost one hundred of them returned to campus in August to deliver a message of their own: “We’re glad you were there.”
They were speaking, of course, about Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, president emeritus of Notre Dame, who made the historic decision to admit women.
Their message was delivered in the pages of their new book, Thanking Father Ted: Thirty-Five Years of Notre Dame Coeducation, a copy of which Ann Therese Darin Palmer ’73, ’75MBA, gave to Father Ted at a dinner in the Main Building. Palmer is the president of the Thanking Father Ted Foundation.
The book contains individual letters from undergraduate alumnae and Notre Dame celebrities thanking Father Ted for the gift of co-education and detailing the differences their Notre Dame educations have made in their lives. It also contains reminiscences of almost every living university administrator during the co-education transition.
The Thanking Father Ted Weekend began with a luncheon at the University Club honoring Sister John Miriam Jones, S.C., the University’s first female administrator. Others honored included Kathleen Cekanski-Farrand ‘73J.D., the first rector of a women’s residence hall—Badin—and other staffers in the first women’s halls.
Father Ted presided at the evening’s Mass in the Grotto. His homily focused on women in the world, including the Virgin Mary, whom he deemed the most important woman in history.
At dinner, Mary Davey Bliley ‘72, who had majored in a marketing, recounted her thoughts on becoming the first woman to receive a bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame and the impact of her Notre Dame experience. “Nobody in our family escapes giving back,” she said. “Even our family dog, Bliley, goes to nursing homes and hospitals to visit the sick and elderly.”
Kathleen Dickinson Villano ’77 recalled “a lesson in humility” Father Ted taught her. As a senior, she wrote a berating letter to the University president because, as an off-campus student, she paid $10 to attend a student picnic that on-campus students attended for free. Father Ted responded with a gracious note and two $5 bills.
During the dinner, Villano, a finance major, returned the $10 to Father Hesburgh plus a check to the Thanking Father Ted Foundation for $132.68, the current value of the $10 at 6 percent compounded interest.
As a 90th birthday present, the foundation is contributing its book profits, as well as soliciting donations, to build a $100,000 scholarship fund in Father Ted’s name.