By David Morgan
This is a true story how the Rev. Father Theodore Hesburgh saved my father’s life while attending Notre Dame University in the early 1950’s. My father is Gerald Morgan but everyone knows him as Jerry, he graduated from Notre Dame in 1953. Father Hesburgh (b.1917 – d.2015) was a longtime president of the University of Notre Dame, is considered one of the most important educational, religious, and civic leaders of the 20th century University. In 2017 a commemorative stamp was created in his honor. https://www.usps.com/stamps/father-hesburgh.htm
Getting into Notre Dame
Jerry grew up in a tenement house in New York City, Manhattan. He lived with his Mother, father and younger brother. Their apartment was tiny and they had to share the bathroom with other apartments on the floor. His Father was a cab driver and they didn’t have much money, he grew up poor. When Jerry was 15 he left home and school to join the army, it was the tail end of World War II in 1945. He served for about a year until they found out that he lied about his age. He was discharged with eligibility for draft when he would turn 18.
When he returned to New York City, he decided he needed to get his high school diploma. He enrolled in an Italian Catholic High School, Immaculauder where he met my mother, Gina Marchetti. When he graduated high school it was on the advice of Gina and the school nuns that he go to college. He didn’t think he could go to college because he didn’t have the means. There was a nun that reminded him that he served in the army during WWII and that he might be eligible for the G.I. Bill of rights which meant that his service, even though he was under age, would pay for his education. He applied and was awarded money for college. The next step, which college? His high school recommended Notre Dame, “a good Irish Catholic University for a good Irish Catholic”! He applied and was accepted.
How Did Father Hesburgh save Jerry’s Life?
Recently I visited my father who is now 87 years old. When I arrived at his apartment he had a to-do list of things he wanted me to help him with, grocery shopping, hang the shower curtain, hang a picture in his living room and see if I could get him The Hesburgh Stamp. I read the list with only one question, “Hesburgh Stamp? What is the Hesburgh stamp?” My father simply replied, “The Hesburgh Stamp is a new commemorative forever stamp recognising Father Theodore Hesburgh.” I googled it on my phone. And of course, “Now I get it” I said, “he was the president of Notre Dame and you went to Notre Dame.” My father added, “Father Hesburgh saved my life when I went to Notre Dame”!
At that point I was intrigued. I sat down on the couch and inquisitively asked “Dad? how did he save your life?”
“I never told you?”
“No! You never told me!”
“It was my second year at Notre Dame. Me and a few friends decided to out drinking one night. I came back to the dorm and I was drunk. I was belligerent and I ran into Big Mac, Father McCaffery. We called him Big Mac because he was a tough priest. He confronted me and I swore off at him. Told him to go you know where. The next morning I was called down to Big Mac’s office. I sat down and he said he wanted me to pack my things and get off campus and never return to Notre Dame and he wanted me gone that day. I left his office and was walking through the campus and I ran into Father Hesburgh. He was not the president at that time. He stopped me and asked why I looked so down in the dumps. I told him the truth. “I got drunk last night and I cursed out Father McCaffery and now he wants me to pack my things and leave Notre Dame for good.”
He told me to walk with him to his office. At his office he called father McCaffery. He pleaded with him to give me a second chance. Father McCaffrey refused to give in. He exclaimed “I want that guy off this campus immediately, Today!”
Father Hesburgh made a proposition to Father McCaffrey, “Okay, he can leave today. He can pack his things and go home today! But allow him the chance to return in the summer semester. With the promise that he will end the semester with all A’s. If he gets all A’s we allow him to return in September and finish his Bachelorette education. If he doesn’t get All A’s then he will have to leave.” Father McCaffrey, hesitantly, but did accept the condition.
Father Hesburgh told me he was going to write a letter to my mother. When I got home I asked my mother if she received a letter from Father Hesburgh. She said she did and it was a beautiful letter.
“I returned that summer and was determined. I had 3 classes for the summer semester. I got three A’s. I was allowed to return for the september semester. And as you know I graduated from Notre Dame”
I told my father I never knew that story. And I get it. Looking back at my life being raised by Jerry I see the difference he made in many people’s lives.
My father went on to achieve a career in Wall Street. He was a Wall Street analyst, his name appeared in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He was interviewed on TV when I was growing up. I grew up in a large home in Westchester, but that’s how I grew up. My father’s story is a rags to riches story. I don’t know how I would have grown up if Jerry didn’t graduate from Notre Dame. Today, not only is my father grateful for Father Hesburgh, so am I.
In 2006 my grandmother passed away at the age of 98. Jerry had found the letter from Father Hesburgh. He had never read it before, she never showed it to him.
I asked him, “What did it say?”
The letter read,
“Dear Mrs. Morgan,
It has become a concern to us here at Notre Dame that your son Gerald has a problem with alcohol. . . “
I bought a sheet of Hesburgh stamps today for Jerry and a commemorative plaque for him for Christmas.