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The legacy of Father Hesburgh: Opening Notre Dame to women

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Late Thursday night Notre Dame Professor Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh died at the age of 97. Students, faculty, alumni, community members and the nation are all mourning his passing.

“You almost felt like it was a father figure passing away,” Denise Brenner said.

Brenner enrolled as a student at Notre Dame in the fall of 1972.

It was the first year the school opened its doors to women.

She, along with so many others, credit Father Hesburgh for making that possible.

“It was all Father Hesburgh. It truly was Father Hesburgh we have to thank for it,” Brenner said.

Brenner grew up in Chicago. She said her father attended Notre Dame.

Never in a million years, did Brenner believe she too, would get the opportunity to further her education at the prestigious university.

“Never. Never. The best we could get would be across the road at St. Mary's. So to come to Notre Dame was really a dream come true,” she explained.

Notre Dame Alumnus Paul Ullrich said his mother, who has since passed away, was also a part of that first group of women to attend—enrolling in 1973.

“She was just thrilled to be able to go to a big catholic school without having to leave her parents, and her sisters, and her brother very far. And to be able to do that all in her backyard was just terrific. Father Hesburgh made that all possible,” Ullrich said.

Brenner said she will always remember Father Hesburgh as kind and warm. She said she will be forever grateful.

“When we came to campus he was here to welcome us. He would come to Walsh Hall and say mass at our dorm and he would always say 'Oh thank you for coming, thank you for coming' and we're just turning around and saying 'Thank you for letting us in!'” Brenner said.

Father Hesburgh has said opening the doors to women was one of his biggest accomplishments. 
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