Notre Dame’s former president, Father Theodore Hesburgh, is to receive Irish citizenship on St. Patrick’s Day on the campus from Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

Hesburgh, a legendary figure now 95 years old, was a leading figure in the U.S. civil rights movement and an educator who was considered among the finest of the 20th century.

He transformed Notre Dame from a provincial academy to an academic and sporting powerhouse.

The citizenship award is very rare, as it is not an honorary award and is given to those who do not qualify through ancestral rules.

Previous recipients have included former House Speaker "Tip” O’Neill and former Coca Cola president Donald Keough.

Hesburgh’s Irish roots are through his Irish mother, Ann Marie Murphy. He grew up in an Irish neighborhood in Syracuse, New York.

He was a member of the U.S. Civil Rights commission from 1957 and during the turbulent years of the 1960s and its chairman from 1969 to 1972 until he was fired by President Nixon because of his outspoken stance on racial equality.

He served as Notre Dame's President for 35 years (1952–87), the longest tenure to date. He supervised dramatic growth, as well as a transition to coeducation in 1972.

During his term, the annual operating budget rose by a factor of 18 from $9.7 million to $176.6 million, the endowment rose by a factor of 40 from $9 million to $350 million, and research funding rose by a factor of 20 from $735,000 to $15 million. Enrollment nearly doubled from 4,979 to 9,600, faculty more than doubled 389 to 950, and degrees awarded annually doubled from 1,212 to 2,500.