Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny has bestowed the highest honor possible on Notre Dame President emeritus, the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, and awarded him Irish citizenship.

Rev. Hesburgh proudly showed off his new Irish passport after the presentation at a St Patrick’s Night dinner on the 14th floor of Hesburgh Library.

Now a dual Irish-American citizen, Rev. Hesburgh was praised by Prime Minister Kenny for his ‘exceptional services’ to the Irish college which includes leading the university from 1952 to 1987.

“It’s a pleasure to be here at Notre Dame on this St. Patrick’s Day 2012,” said Kenny who spoke of the strong ties between Ireland and the university in particular and America in general.

The Reverend, who turns 95 in May, thanked Kenny for his visit and looked forward to the college’s tour to Ireland for a highly anticipated American Football clash with Navy in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium this September.

“We can all be Irish for a while, even if we’re a half or a quarter something else,” said the priest who has Irish roots through his late mother: Ann Marie Murphy.

His grandfather, Martin Murphy emigrated from Ireland as an infant with his family in 1857 while Hesburgh grew up in an Irish neighborhood in Syracuse, N.Y.

Rev. Hesburgh also paid tribute to the contributions of the lay people to Notre Dame’s growth.

“You have made Our Lady’s university come to life,” he said. “Many people came to this place and gave their best to make it the best.

“I’m deeply grateful for the years I’ve had here in this place. I
don’t pretend to deserve them.

“As long as we are faithful to the Golden Lady on the Golden Dome, I can promise you this place will continue to grow and prosper.”

Former Coca Cola president Donald Keough led the tributes to Rev Hesburgh in his role as the chairman emeritus of Notre Dame’s board of trustees.

“He is the soul of this place,” said Keough of Hesburgh. “At age 35, he became president of a lovely Midwestern college and proceeded to develop it into the greatest Catholic university in the world.

“He started Notre Dame on a journey, acquiring top-notch
professors and drawing on the help of lay people while also retaining the university’s central Catholic identity.”

Current Notre Dame President the Rev. John I. Jenkins, and former President the Rev. Edward A. Malloy also paid tribute to the new Irish citizen.

Rev. Jenkins noted that Notre Dame’s ‘Fighting Irish’ nickname began as a slur by opponents in the early 20th century. “But the university embraced that name and transformed it to represent the real resilience of the Irish,” he said.

Notre Dame’s Marching Band visited Ireland this week when they took part in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin.

The band was awarded the parade’s ‘Spirit of St. Patrick’s Day’ medal.

Father Theodore Hesburgh with his new Irish passport during a banquet ceremony awarding him with Irish citizenship inside the Hesburgh Library at Notre Dame on St Patrick's Day 2012.South Bend Tribune