Following the completion of his dissertation from Catholic University in the spring of 1945, at the age of 28, Father Hesburgh joined the faculty of the Department of Religion at the University of Notre Dame. Two months in, as the first veterans returned from war to pursue their degrees, Father Hesburgh started the Notre Dame Veterans Club and became its chaplain. After the number of veterans on campus grew to encompass most of the student body, the club dissolved, and Father Hesburgh began to assist the married veterans and their families on campus and became chaplain of “Vetville,” a family housing complex for returning soldiers.
From the beginning of his time at Notre Dame, Father Hesburgh was dedicated to his students. Even when his job took him away from teaching and serving as a rector and chaplain, Father Hesburgh always listened to students’ concerns. He helped guide them through the tumultuous 1960s, and ushered in coeducation shortly thereafter. He would offer Mass at all of the dormitories on campus, attend the football games, and had an open door policy, of which many students took advantage.
Father Hesburgh was not only interested in a student’s academic formation, but also his or her spiritual formation and discernment of their calling in life. He was there to help students answer the difficult questions, make good use of their time at Notre Dame, and go on to make their mark in the world.