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Review: Documentary ‘Hesburgh’ affirms the inspiring life of Notre Dame’s Father Ted

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Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, longtime president of the University of Notre Dame, in the documentary “Hesburgh.”
(O’Malley/Creadon Productions)

As informational as it is inspirational, Patrick Creadon’s “Hesburgh” is a thoroughly engaging documentary chronicle of the life and turbulent times of longtime Notre Dame president Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, whose tenure coincided with a particularly pivotal stretch of American history.

A charismatic individual with a Zelig-like knack for figuring into many of the decisive events of the 20th century, the man affectionately referred to as “Father Ted” (he died at age 97 in 2015) would exert his considerable influence well beyond the halls of the university he’d elevate above its football-playing.

Most significantly, he would emerge as a passionate civil rights crusader appointed to numerous White House commissions under a succession of presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon, who would ultimately part ways with Hesburgh over his outspoken stance on the Voting Rights Act and school desegregation.

Narrated in the first person by voice actor Maurice LaMarche (if they made a dramatic movie version, George Clooney’s a natural), the film draws upon Hesburgh’s writings and interviews, combined with astute observations from the likes of activist-historian Mary Frances Berry, Nancy Pelosi and Ted Koppel, who speaks of Hesburgh’s “extraordinary ability to reach across lines.”

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Considering his close personal relationships ran from Pope Paul VI to superstar advice columnist Ann Landers (!), it was a truly remarkable reach that never exceeded his grasp of his life’s unyielding mission.

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‘Hesburgh’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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Playing: Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Arya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills; AMC Orange.

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