SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, the Catholic priest who transformed the University of Notre Dame into an acadmic power, died Thursday. He was 97.
In his 35 years as president of the university, Hesburgh was not afraid of challenging popes, presidents or legendary football coaches.
As Notre Dame's executive vice president in 1949, Hesburgh took on powerful football coach Frank Leahy while reorganizing the athletic department. When the Vatican demanded conformity to church dogma, Hesburgh insisted that Notre Dame remain an intellectual center for theological debate. He also famously challenged the record of President Richard Nixon, who fired him from the Civil Rights Commission in 1972.
"The Catholic university should be a place," he wrote, "where all the great questions are asked, where an exciting conversation is continually in progress, where the mind constantly grows as the values and powers of intelligence and wisdom are cherished and exercised in full freedom."