Laetare Medal

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The Laetare Medal is an annual award given by the University of Notre Dame in recognition of outstanding service to the Catholic Church and society. The award is given to an American Catholic or group of Catholics "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity."[1] First awarded in 1883, it is the oldest and most prestigious[citation needed] award for American Catholics. The medal is an external award which can be given to a person from outside the University of Notre Dame. It is named the Laetare Medal because the recipient of the award is announced in celebration of Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent.[2][3]

The Laetare Medal was conceived by University of Notre Dame professor James Edwards as an American version of the papal award the Golden Rose. It was approved of by the university's founder Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C.. The Golden Rose has existed since the 11th century, and was customarily awarded to a royal person on Laetare Sunday, although this was rarely done during the 20th century. The university adapted this tradition — awarding a gold medal, instead of a rose — to a distinguished American Catholic on Laetare Sunday. The medal has the Latin inscription "Magna est veritas et praevalebit," meaning "Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail."[4]

A candidate for the award must be a practicing American Catholic who has made a distinctively Catholic contribution in their professional or intellectual life. A committee generally takes names of potential recipients from faculty and staff at the University of Notre Dame. They select two or three candidates from this group, which are voted on by the Officers of the University.[3]


John Gilmary Shea, a historian of the Catholic Church in the United States, was the first person to be awarded the Laetare Medal in 1883. The recipients of the Laetare Medal come from varied fields. Recipients include jazz musicians, Cardinals, philanthropists, ambassadors, authors, opera singers, Senators, doctors, generals, and a U.S. President.

List of recipients
YearLaetare MedalistPositionYearLaetare MedalistPosition
1883John Gilmary SheaHistorian1949Irene Dunne GriffinActress
1884Patrick Charles KeelyArchitect1950General Joseph L. CollinsSoldier
1885Eliza Allen StarrArt Critic1951John Henry PhelanPhilanthropist
1886General John NewtonEngineer1952Thomas E. MurrayMember of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
1887Edward PreussPublicist1953I.A. O'ShaughnessyPhilanthropist
1888Patrick V. HickeyFounder and Editor of The Catholic Review1954Jefferson CafferyDiplomat
1889Anna Hanson DorseyNovelist1955George MeanyLabor Leader
1890William J. OnahanOrganizer of the American Catholic Congress1956General Alfred M. GruentherSoldier
1891Daniel DoughertyOrator1957Clare Boothe LuceDiplomat
1892Henry F. BrownsonPhilosopher and Author1958Frank M. FolsomIndustrialist
1893Patrick DonohueFounder of the Boston Pilot1959Robert Daniel MurphyDiplomat
1894Augustin DalyTheatrical Producer1960George N. ShusterEducator
1895Mary Anne SadlierNovelist1961John F. KennedyPresident of the United States
1896General William Starke RosencransSoldier1962Francis J. BracelandPsychiatrist
1897Thomas Addis EmmetPhysician1963Admiral George Whelan Anderson, Jr.Chief of Naval Operations
1898Timothy Edward HowardJurist1964Phyllis McGinleyPoet
1899Mary Gwendolin CaldwellPhilanthropist1965Frederick D. RossiniScientist
1900John A. CreightonPhilanthropist1966Patrick F. & Patricia Caron CrowleyFounders of The Christian Movement
1901William Bourke CockranOrator1967J. Peter GraceIndustrialist
1902John Benjamin MurphySurgeon1968Robert Sargent ShriverDiplomat
1903Charles Jerome BonaparteLawyer1969William J. Brennan Jr.Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
1904Richard C. KerensDiplomat1970Dr. William B. WalshPhysician
1905Thomas B. FitzpatrickPhilanthropist1971Walter Kerr & Jean KerrDrama Critic and Author
1906Francis J. QuinlanPhysician1972Dorothy DayFounder of the Catholic Worker Movement
1907Katherine Eleanor ConwayJournalist and Author1973Rev. John A. O'BrienAuthor
1908James C. MonaghanEconomist1974James A. FarleyBusiness Executive and Former Postmaster General
1909Frances Tieran (Christian Reid)Novelist1975Sr. Ann Ida Gannon, BMVPresident of Mundelein College
1910Maurice Francis EganAuthor and Diplomat1976Paul HorganAuthor
1911Agnes RepplierAuthor1977Mike MansfieldFormer Senate Majority Leader
1912Thomas M. MulryPhilanthropist1978Msgr. John Tracy EllisChurch Historian
1913Charles George HerbermannEditor of the Catholic Encyclopedia1979Helen HayesActress
1914Edward Douglass WhiteChief Justice of the United States1980Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr.Speaker of the House
1915Mary V. MerrickPhilanthropist1981Edmund Sixtus MuskieSecretary of State
1916James Joseph WalshPhysician and Author1982John Francis Cardinal DeardenArchbishop Emeritus of Detroit
1917Admiral William Shepherd BensonChief of Naval Operations1983Edmund & Evelyn StephanChairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees and his wife
1918Joseph ScottLawyer1984John T. Noonan, Jr.Lawyer
1919George L. DuvalPhilanthropist1985Guido CalabresiDean of the Yale Law School
1920Lawrence Francis FlickPhysician1986Thomas & Mary Elizabeth CarneyChairman of the Board of Trustees and his wife
1921Elizabeth NourseArtist1987Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSCPresident of the University of Notre Dame
1922Charles Patrick NeillEconomist1988Eunice Kennedy ShriverFounder & Chairwoman of the Special Olympics
1923Walter George SmithLawyer1989Walker PercyNovelist
1924Charles Donagh MaginnisArchitect1990Sister Thea Bowman (posthumously)Educator
1925Albert Francis ZahmScientist1991Corinne Lindy BoggsFormer Louisiana Congresswoman
1926Edward Nash HurleyBusinessman1992Daniel Patrick MoynihanU.S. Senator from New York
1927Margaret AnglinActress1993Donald R. KeoughChairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees
1928John Johnson SpauldingLawyer1994Sidney CallahanEducator and Journalist
1929Alfred Emmanuel SmithStatesman1995Joseph Cardinal BernardinArchbishop of Chicago
1930Frederick Philip KenkelPublicist1996Sister Helen PrejeanDeath Penalty Abolitionist
1931James J. PhelanBusinessman1997Rev. Virgilio ElizondoTheologian and Activist
1932Stephen J. MaherPhysician1998Dr. Edmund D. PellegrinoMedical Ethicist and Educator
1933John McCormackArtist1999Philip GleasonProfessor Emeritus of History, Notre Dame
1934Genevieve Garvan BradyPhilanthropist2000Andrew McKennaChairman of the Board of Trustees
1935Francis Hamilton SpearmanNovelist2001Msgr. George G. HigginsPriest and Labor Activist
1936Richard ReidJournalist and Lawyer2002Father John SmythExecutive Director of Maryville Academy
1937Jeremiah D. M. FordScholar2003Peter and Margaret O'Brien SteinfelsEditors of Commonweal
1938Irvin William AbellSurgeon2004Father J. Bryan HehirPresident of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Boston
1939Josephine Van Dyke BrownsonCatechist2005Dr. Joseph E. MurraySurgeon & Nobel Prize Winner
1940General Hugh Aloysius DrumSoldier2006Dave BrubeckJazz Pianist
1941William Thomas WalshJournalist and Author2007Patrick McCartanChairman of the Board of Trustees
1942Helen Constance WhiteAuthor and Teacher2008Martin SheenActor
1943Thomas Francis WoodlockEditor2009NOT AWARDED (SEE BELOW)
1944Anne O'Hare McCormickJournalist2010Dana GioiaFormer Chairman of National Endowment for the Arts
1945Gardiner Howland ShawDiplomat2011Sister Mary Scullion, R.S.M., & Joan McConnonSocial Advocates
1946Carlton J. H. HayesHistorian and Diplomat2012Ken HackettFormer President of Catholic Relief Services
1947William G. BrucePublisher and Civic Leader2013Sister Susanne Gallagher, S.P.
Sister Mary Therese Harrington, S.H.
Rev. James H. McCarthy
Founders of S.P.R.E.D. (Special Religious Education Development Network)
1948Frank C. WalkerPostmaster General and Civic Leader2014Kenneth R. MillerProfessor of Biology at Brown University

2009 Laetare Medal[edit]

Harvard Law School professor and former United States Ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon, was chosen as the 2009 recipient but declined the award when the University, as part of its justification of its controversial decision to name Barack Obama as its commencement speaker and grant him an honorary degree, issued "talking points" stating that "President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal. ... We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about." In light of Obama's strong pro-choice policies, Glendon considered Notre Dame's decision to be in violation of a 2004 pronouncement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops instructing Catholic institutions not to provide "honors, awards, or platforms" to "those who act in defiance of [Catholic] fundamental moral principles." She also believed that the University's statements had placed her in an untenable position; as she wrote in her letter declining the medal, "A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice."[5] Notre Dame ultimately selected 1984 Laetare recipient Judge John T. Noonan, Jr. to speak in the spirit of the Laetare award, choosing not to award the 2009 medal.[6]


  1. ^ Skinner, Rosemary, (editor), 2006, Encyclopedia of Women And Religion in North America, Indiana University Press, p. 877, ISBN 0-253-34685-1.
  2. ^ Laetare medal to labor priest, Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 2001.
  3. ^ a b Antonacci, Kate, 2005-03-18, Laetare winner named: Murray to be honoured by milestone surgery, , The Observer.
  4. ^ Tomme, Alyson, 2001-05-18, Higgins wins Laetare Medal, The Observer.
  5. ^ Glendon, Mary Ann (2009-04-27). "Declining Notre Dame: A Letter from Mary Ann Glendon". The Institute on Religion and Public Life. Retrieved 19 January 2011. 
  6. ^ Brown, Dennis (2009-04-30). "Former Laetare Medalist Judge John T. Noonan to deliver address at Notre Dame’s Commencement". Newswire. University of Notre Dame. Retrieved 19 January 2011. 

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