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." First awarded in 1883, it is the oldest and most prestigious 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.
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."
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.
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.
|Year||Laetare Medalist||Position||Year||Laetare Medalist||Position|
|1883||John Gilmary Shea||Historian||1949||Irene Dunne Griffin||Actress|
|1884||Patrick Charles Keely||Architect||1950||General Joseph L. Collins||Soldier|
|1885||Eliza Allen Starr||Art Critic||1951||John Henry Phelan||Philanthropist|
|1886||General John Newton||Engineer||1952||Thomas E. Murray||Member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission|
|1887||Edward Preuss||Publicist||1953||I.A. O'Shaughnessy||Philanthropist|
|1888||Patrick V. Hickey||Founder and Editor of The Catholic Review||1954||Jefferson Caffery||Diplomat|
|1889||Anna Hanson Dorsey||Novelist||1955||George Meany||Labor Leader|
|1890||William J. Onahan||Organizer of the American Catholic Congress||1956||General Alfred M. Gruenther||Soldier|
|1891||Daniel Dougherty||Orator||1957||Clare Boothe Luce||Diplomat|
|1892||Henry F. Brownson||Philosopher and Author||1958||Frank M. Folsom||Industrialist|
|1893||Patrick Donohue||Founder of the Boston Pilot||1959||Robert Daniel Murphy||Diplomat|
|1894||Augustin Daly||Theatrical Producer||1960||George N. Shuster||Educator|
|1895||Mary Anne Sadlier||Novelist||1961||John F. Kennedy||President of the United States|
|1896||General William Starke Rosencrans||Soldier||1962||Francis J. Braceland||Psychiatrist|
|1897||Thomas Addis Emmet||Physician||1963||Admiral George Whelan Anderson, Jr.||Chief of Naval Operations|
|1898||Timothy Edward Howard||Jurist||1964||Phyllis McGinley||Poet|
|1899||Mary Gwendolin Caldwell||Philanthropist||1965||Frederick D. Rossini||Scientist|
|1900||John A. Creighton||Philanthropist||1966||Patrick F. & Patricia Caron Crowley||Founders of The Christian Movement|
|1901||William Bourke Cockran||Orator||1967||J. Peter Grace||Industrialist|
|1902||John Benjamin Murphy||Surgeon||1968||Robert Sargent Shriver||Diplomat|
|1903||Charles Jerome Bonaparte||Lawyer||1969||William J. Brennan Jr.||Associate Justice of the Supreme Court|
|1904||Richard C. Kerens||Diplomat||1970||Dr. William B. Walsh||Physician|
|1905||Thomas B. Fitzpatrick||Philanthropist||1971||Walter Kerr & Jean Kerr||Drama Critic and Author|
|1906||Francis J. Quinlan||Physician||1972||Dorothy Day||Founder of the Catholic Worker Movement|
|1907||Katherine Eleanor Conway||Journalist and Author||1973||Rev. John A. O'Brien||Author|
|1908||James C. Monaghan||Economist||1974||James A. Farley||Business Executive and Former Postmaster General|
|1909||Frances Tieran (Christian Reid)||Novelist||1975||Sr. Ann Ida Gannon, BMV||President of Mundelein College|
|1910||Maurice Francis Egan||Author and Diplomat||1976||Paul Horgan||Author|
|1911||Agnes Repplier||Author||1977||Mike Mansfield||Former Senate Majority Leader|
|1912||Thomas M. Mulry||Philanthropist||1978||Msgr. John Tracy Ellis||Church Historian|
|1913||Charles George Herbermann||Editor of the Catholic Encyclopedia||1979||Helen Hayes||Actress|
|1914||Edward Douglass White||Chief Justice of the United States||1980||Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr.||Speaker of the House|
|1915||Mary V. Merrick||Philanthropist||1981||Edmund Sixtus Muskie||Secretary of State|
|1916||James Joseph Walsh||Physician and Author||1982||John Francis Cardinal Dearden||Archbishop Emeritus of Detroit|
|1917||Admiral William Shepherd Benson||Chief of Naval Operations||1983||Edmund & Evelyn Stephan||Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees and his wife|
|1918||Joseph Scott||Lawyer||1984||John T. Noonan, Jr.||Lawyer|
|1919||George L. Duval||Philanthropist||1985||Guido Calabresi||Dean of the Yale Law School|
|1920||Lawrence Francis Flick||Physician||1986||Thomas & Mary Elizabeth Carney||Chairman of the Board of Trustees and his wife|
|1921||Elizabeth Nourse||Artist||1987||Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC||President of the University of Notre Dame|
|1922||Charles Patrick Neill||Economist||1988||Eunice Kennedy Shriver||Founder & Chairwoman of the Special Olympics|
|1923||Walter George Smith||Lawyer||1989||Walker Percy||Novelist|
|1924||Charles Donagh Maginnis||Architect||1990||Sister Thea Bowman (posthumously)||Educator|
|1925||Albert Francis Zahm||Scientist||1991||Corinne Lindy Boggs||Former Louisiana Congresswoman|
|1926||Edward Nash Hurley||Businessman||1992||Daniel Patrick Moynihan||U.S. Senator from New York|
|1927||Margaret Anglin||Actress||1993||Donald R. Keough||Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees|
|1928||John Johnson Spaulding||Lawyer||1994||Sidney Callahan||Educator and Journalist|
|1929||Alfred Emmanuel Smith||Statesman||1995||Joseph Cardinal Bernardin||Archbishop of Chicago|
|1930||Frederick Philip Kenkel||Publicist||1996||Sister Helen Prejean||Death Penalty Abolitionist|
|1931||James J. Phelan||Businessman||1997||Rev. Virgilio Elizondo||Theologian and Activist|
|1932||Stephen J. Maher||Physician||1998||Dr. Edmund D. Pellegrino||Medical Ethicist and Educator|
|1933||John McCormack||Artist||1999||Philip Gleason||Professor Emeritus of History, Notre Dame|
|1934||Genevieve Garvan Brady||Philanthropist||2000||Andrew McKenna||Chairman of the Board of Trustees|
|1935||Francis Hamilton Spearman||Novelist||2001||Msgr. George G. Higgins||Priest and Labor Activist|
|1936||Richard Reid||Journalist and Lawyer||2002||Father John Smyth||Executive Director of Maryville Academy|
|1937||Jeremiah D. M. Ford||Scholar||2003||Peter and Margaret O'Brien Steinfels||Editors of Commonweal|
|1938||Irvin William Abell||Surgeon||2004||Father J. Bryan Hehir||President of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Boston|
|1939||Josephine Van Dyke Brownson||Catechist||2005||Dr. Joseph E. Murray||Surgeon & Nobel Prize Winner|
|1940||General Hugh Aloysius Drum||Soldier||2006||Dave Brubeck||Jazz Pianist|
|1941||William Thomas Walsh||Journalist and Author||2007||Patrick McCartan||Chairman of the Board of Trustees|
|1942||Helen Constance White||Author and Teacher||2008||Martin Sheen||Actor|
|1943||Thomas Francis Woodlock||Editor||2009||NOT AWARDED (SEE BELOW)|
|1944||Anne O'Hare McCormick||Journalist||2010||Dana Gioia||Former Chairman of National Endowment for the Arts|
|1945||Gardiner Howland Shaw||Diplomat||2011||Sister Mary Scullion, R.S.M., & Joan McConnon||Social Advocates|
|1946||Carlton J. H. Hayes||Historian and Diplomat||2012||Ken Hackett||Former President of Catholic Relief Services|
|1947||William G. Bruce||Publisher and Civic Leader||2013||Sister 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)|
|1948||Frank C. Walker||Postmaster General and Civic Leader||2014||Kenneth R. Miller||Professor of Biology at Brown University|
2009 Laetare Medal
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." 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.
- Skinner, Rosemary, (editor), 2006, Encyclopedia of Women And Religion in North America, Indiana University Press, p. 877, ISBN 0-253-34685-1.
- Laetare medal to labor priest, Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 2001.
- Antonacci, Kate, 2005-03-18, Laetare winner named: Murray to be honoured by milestone surgery, , The Observer.
- Tomme, Alyson, 2001-05-18, Higgins wins Laetare Medal, The Observer.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Laetare Medal Recipients". Archives. University of Notre Dame. 2010.