As much as we Americans like to style ourselves as rugged individualists—the progeny of generations of straight talking, honest laboring, up-by-the-bootstraps loners—we’re anything but. We may revere fictional heroes in fictional situations, such as Gary Cooper standing his ground in the middle of the street in “High Noon” or John Wayne, fists full of firepower and the reins in his teeth, going it alone against the bad guys in “True Grit,” but when left to our devices in the real world, we identify and flourish within the group.
We are Dodger fans or Angel fans, dog people or cat people, Republicans or Democrats. We belong to car clubs, bridge clubs, soccer teams and sewing circles. We form fan clubs, golfing foursomes, bowling leagues and block party committees.
It all combines to form our identity and our character. We take satisfaction in these associations, and we stand with particular gratification when one of our own does us proud.
Occasionally one or more of these people casts a glow so brilliant that the entire group is suffused in it, and heads everywhere, in every quarter, turn in appreciation, gratitude and recognition.
That is what has happened in the last few days in the cases of Sister Mary Ann Walsh and Father Theodore Hesburgh.
Sister Mary Ann is a Sister of Mercy who has spent most of her 50 years of religious life as an author, journalist, teacher, Vatican correspondent, editor and spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Currently writing for the Jesuit magazine America, Sister Mary Ann has been the erudite, accurate and clear voice of and for the Church in the U.S. and elsewhere during a career that has earned her accolades throughout the Catholic and secular press. She has been a stalwart in the pursuit of truth and her writing has been always accessible and valuable. The quality of her work is being recognized to an even greater degree lately because of her continuing battle with aggressive breast cancer. (See more in the Catholic Family Life section).
Father Theodore Hesburgh was the legendary president of the University of Notre Dame for a remarkable 35 years. The Holy Cross priest, who died Feb. 26 at age 97, was one of the most visible faces of the Church in America and the world, and had an indelible reputation as a champion of civil rights, peace among nations and higher education. He served presidents and popes with the highest degree of intelligence, expertise and, always, humility and grace. (See more in the National News section).
As Catholics, we look to extraordinary people like Sister Ann and Father Ted as our own, and we feel a deep sense of kinship and pride when we realize that we share with them a faith that animated their lives, and that continues to animate ours. We are part of a benign, creative and inclusive crucible that produced and inspired such uncommon human beings, and it is not vain to think that we, as co-members of the Body of Christ, share in their achievements and their legacies.