SOUTH BEND, Ind., Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, the influential former president of the University of Notre Dame, died at age 97.
Hesburgh, who served as the university's president for 35 years, was known as a civil-rights champion, walking hand-in-hand with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Walk for Freedom Civil Rights march in 1964 and serving as a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. During his tenure, Hesburgh opened the school's enrollment to women and changed the role of Catholic higher education in the nation. When he retired in 1987, Newsweek called him "the nation's most recognized Roman Catholic priest and, arguably, the most influential."
Over the years, Hesburgh received 150 honorary degrees, the most ever awarded to one person, and held 15 presidential appointments, including chairing the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1969 to 1972. In 2000, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Hesburgh served as the university's president from 1952 to 1987.
"We mourn today a great man and faithful priest who transformed the University of Notre Dame and touched the lives of many," said the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame's president. "With his leadership, charisma and vision, he turned a relatively small Catholic college known for football into one of the nation's great institutions for higher learning. In his historic service to the nation, the Church and the world, he was a steadfast champion for human rights, the cause of peace and care for the poor."
Hesburgh died at Holy Cross House, adjacent to the university. The university said a customary funeral mass will be celebrated at Basilica of the Sacred Heart on campus. The day has not been announced.