With gratitude to father Ted

New book's voices reflect on ND's shift to coeducation


Tribune Staff Writer

Kathleen Cekanski- Ferrand was the first woman rector of a women's residence hall at the University of Notre Dame in 1972, when the university began admitting female undergraduates.

It was a tumultuous time.

Back then, she was Kathleen Cekanski, a third-year Notre Dame law student.

From her perspective, the biggest task for female rectors was making each woman student feel welcome in the residence hall, the classroom and across campus. She realized woman students needed role models -- more women on the faculty.

"One issue that we had to address was the amount of animosity that was verbally foisted upon (women students)," Cekanski-Ferrand says in an interview in the new book "Thanking Father Ted: Thirty-Five Years of Notre Dame Coeducation" (edited by Ann Therese Darin Palmer, Andrews McMeel Publishing, $26.95).She is now the South Bend Common Council's attorney.

Notre Dame's early women undergraduates "had to put up with some pretty cutting remarks, when they walked into class at first. Several of them were told that they were taking up the spot that would have gone to someone's brother. We dealt with that by being as positive as we could be until the boys got to know them. The girls couldn't retreat," she recounts.

I truly loved my time at Notre Dame. I absolutely benefited from the fact that I was there in an era of transition, at a time when women were not fully integrated into campus life. Those experiences taught me how to compete and to excel in atmospheres that were not always familiar or comfortable.

-- Kathleen Gallogly Cox, Class of 1976, Judge, Baltimore (Md.) County Circuit Court

The book is a compilation of letters from and interviews with women graduates, administrators and trustees.Letters from alumnae addressed to Hesburgh fill most of the volume. They are letters from the heart, expressing heartfelt thanks, and their joy and love for Notre Dame.

Many of the letters describe Notre Dame as a turning point -- a place that prepares women for future successes in careers, relationships and their spiritual lives.

There are reminiscences from well-known Domers, too: football coaches, television personalities, journalists and athletes, describing how Hesburgh and Notre Dame have enriched lives.

You led Notre Dame for 35 glorious years and your decision to make Notre Dame coeducational is just one example of your vision. You felt Notre Dame could not become a great educational institution if Our Lady's school eliminated one half of the most talented people in the world.

-- Lou Holtz, ND head football coach, 1986-1996. In the book, Notre Dame graduates recount successes, heartbreaks and lifelong friendships that started during their college days.

Some contributors also reflect on how their lives would have been different if Notre Dame hadn't changed with the times.

Thanks for making Notre Dame coed and thanks for all your work with civil rights. If you had done neither, I would not be a medical doctor today, being both African-American and female. Thanks for believing in a future that could be different!

-- Lena Jefferson, M.D., Class of 1990

In an interview in the book, Hesburgh recalls how he decided Notre Dame should open its doors to women undergraduates. "It struck me that if we are in the education business for higher education in the Catholic Church in America, we can't say we are doing this and ignore half of the American Catholic population. So, I began to make a few noises. It was obvious this was not going to be an easy thing to do," he says. Hesburgh describes the plan to merge with Saint Mary's College and how that agreement fell apart. That's when Hesburgh announced Notre Dame would begin accepting female applicants for undergraduate admission.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned." Thank goodness I was never asked to pay for one particular sin in my youth. In fact, the opposite occurred. The 1967 transgression I'm referring to was my boneheaded, wrong-thinking opposition to the decision to make Notre Dame coeducational.

-- James R. Lynch, Class of 1967, captain of the national championship ND 1966 football team, leader of the "Better Dead Than Coed" movement his senior year and father of two daughters who later graduated from Notre Dame

Over and over, those who contributed to the book refer to the Notre Dame family and trips to campus as returning home.Notre Dame is a family, a big, noisy, contentious Catholic family much like the ones many of us grew up with. I feel it every time one of us is honored for our accomplishments, whenever we lose a family member, when our university is mentioned for praise or criticism. I get a little glow inside whenever I can say, "That's my school."

-- Anne Giffels, Class of 1981

Today's undergraduates were born long after Notre Dame started admitting women. For them, Notre Dame always has been coeducational. For a few, however, that 1972 decision still reverberates in their lives.

Every time I tell someone that I'm the daughter of a Notre Dame graduate, they ask me what year my "father" graduated. Immediately, I am proud to announce that my mother, Mary Beth Faccenda Hough, graduated in 1982. Without you, Father, my mothers, my aunts, and I would not have been able to attend this great university.-- Kayleigh Hough, Class of 2008