Fr. Charles Sheedy, C.S.C., was a man for all seasons and a Holy Cross priest for all people. He was a lawyer, professor of theology, golfer who reminded one of Ben Hogan, conscientious religious, and Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame. He also was a friend and sought-out companion of the young in Holy Cross and the elderly, bearer of illness and adversity with unique humor, life-long enemy of self-deception, and an avid reader of the New York Times and every major book reviewed therein that he could read by day and often by night.
Charlie was a bulwark of faith for those of us who may have feared that modernity trumped religion. Charlie read all the opponents of Christian faith, and he was always confident that the Gospel Truth was still standing.
Fr. Sheedy was famous for one-liners. “The essence of community life is showing up.” On the departure of a runabout seminarian: “We have lost a seminarian and gained a car.” At supper in the buffet line: “What am I hungry for”? At his retirement party as Dean speaking to the faculty: “I have loved almost all of you.” He stopped me on a campus sidewalk when I first came to Notre Dame as a freshman and simply asked: “what was my name”?
No one else came close to breaking my heart. At a Holy Cross funeral when I lamented that we hardly know each other and how can we shed a tear, Charlie replied: “It’s better that way; we are all equal in death.”
In his tenure as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, he engineered the Freshman Year of Studies that still stands 50 years later. It was a plan to benefit first-year students that he scrupulously prepared, consulting most everyone, and carefully designed in a way to save freshmen who thought they knew what they wanted to study in college from wasting a year with premature and unrealistic specialization.
His memory is showered with wisdom, humor, humility and just plain human friendliness. He lingers to this day in the hearts of his community and his many friends whom he made so readily.
Fr. Nicholas Ayo, C.S.C., taught for many years as a professor in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Along with Fr. Jim Connelly, C.S.C., he profiles some of the heroes in Holy Cross for the Spes Unica blog. Learn more about our heroes in Holy Cross, including our blessed founder and our first canonized saint.