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 (though not necessarily one who accepts everything proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals) who has made a distinctively Catholic contribution in his or her professional or intellectual life, even if that contribution is at odds with Catholic teaching. 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||1951||John Henry Phelan||Philanthropist|
|1884||Patrick Charles Keely||Architect||1952||Thomas E. Murray||Member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission|
|1885||Eliza Allen Starr||Art Critic||1953||I.A. O'Shaughnessy||Philanthropist|
|1886||General John Newton||Engineer||1954||Jefferson Caffery||Diplomat|
|1887||Edwin Preuss||Publicist||1955||George Meany||Labor Leader|
|1888||Patrick V. Hickey||Founder and Editor of The Catholic Review||1956||General Alfred M. Gruenther||Soldier|
|1889||Anna Hanson Dorsey||Novelist||1957||Clare Boothe Luce||Diplomat|
|1890||William J. Onahan||Organizer of the American Catholic Congress||1958||Frank M. Folsom||Industrialist|
|1891||Daniel Dougherty||Orator||1959||Robert Daniel Murphy||Diplomat|
|1892||Henry F. Brownson||Philosopher and Author||1960||George N. Shuster||Educator|
|1893||Patrick Donohue||Founder of the Boston Pilot||1961||John F. Kennedy||President of the United States|
|1894||Augustin Daly||Theatrical Producer||1962||Francis J. Braceland||Psychiatrist|
|1895||Mary Anne Sadlier||Novelist||1963||Admiral George Whelan Anderson, Jr.||Chief of Naval Operations|
|1896||General William Starke Rosencrans||Soldier||1964||Phyllis McGinley||Poet|
|1897||Thomas Addis Emmet||Physician||1965||Frederick D. Rossini||Scientist|
|1898||Timothy Edward Howard||Jurist||1966||Patrick F. & Patricia Caron Crowley||Founders of The Christian Movement|
|1899||Mary Gwendolin Caldwell||Philanthropist||1967||J. Peter Grace||Industrialist|
|1900||John A. Creighton||Philanthropist||1968||Robert Sargent Shriver||Diplomat|
|1901||William Bourke Cockran||Orator||1969||William J. Brennan Jr.||Associate Justice of the Supreme Court|
|1902||John Benjamin Murphy||Surgeon||1970||Dr. William B. Walsh||Physician|
|1903||Charles Jerome Bonaparte||Lawyer||1971||Walter Kerr & Jean Kerr||Drama Critic and Author|
|1904||Richard C. Kerens||Diplomat||1972||Dorothy Day||Founder of the Catholic Worker Movement|
|1905||Thomas B. Fitzpatrick||Philanthropist||1973||Rev. John A. O'Brien||Author|
|1906||Francis J. Quinlan||Physician||1974||James A. Farley||Business Executive and Former Postmaster General|
|1907||Katherine Eleanor Conway||Journalist and Author||1975||Sr. Ann Ida Gannon, BMV||President of Mundelein College|
|1908||James C. Monaghan||Economist||1976||Paul Horgan||Author|
|1909||Frances Tieran (Christian Reid)||Novelist||1977||Mike Mansfield||Former Senate Majority Leader|
|1910||Maurice Francis Egan||Author and Diplomat||1978||Msgr. John Tracy Ellis||Church Historian|
|1911||Agnes Repplier||Author||1979||Helen Hayes||Actress|
|1912||Thomas M. Mulry||Philanthropist||1980||Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr.||Speaker of the House|
|1913||Charles George Herbermann||Editor of the Catholic Encyclopedia||1981||Edmund Sixtus Muskie||Secretary of State|
|1914||Edward Douglass White||Chief Justice of the United States||1982||John Francis Cardinal Dearden||Archbishop Emeritus of Detroit|
|1915||Mary V. Merrick||Philanthropist||1983||Edmund & Evelyn Stephan||Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees and his wife|
|1916||James Joseph Walsh||Physician and Author||1984||John T. Noonan, Jr.||Lawyer|
|1917||Admiral William Shepherd Benson||Chief of Naval Operations||1985||Guido Calabresi||Dean of the Yale Law School|
|1918||Joseph Scott||Lawyer||1986||Thomas & Mary Elizabeth Carney||Chairman of the Board of Trustees and his wife|
|1919||George L. Duval||Philanthropist||1987||Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC||President of the University of Notre Dame|
|1920||Lawrence Francis Flick||Physician||1988||Eunice Kennedy Shriver||Founder & Chairwoman of the Special Olympics|
|1921||Elizabeth Nourse||Artist||1989||Walker Percy||Novelist|
|1922||Charles Patrick Neill||Economist||1990||Sister Thea Bowman (posthumously)||Educator|
|1923||Walter George Smith||Lawyer||1991||Corinne Lindy Boggs||Former Louisiana Congresswoman|
|1924||Charles Donagh Maginnis||Architect||1992||Daniel Patrick Moynihan||U.S. Senator from New York|
|1925||Albert Francis Zahm||Scientist||1993||Donald R. Keough||Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees|
|1926||Edward Nash Hurley||Businessman||1994||Sidney Callahan||Educator and Journalist|
|1927||Margaret Anglin||Actress||1995||Joseph Cardinal Bernardin||Archbishop of Chicago|
|1928||John Johnson Spalding||Lawyer||1996||Sister Helen Prejean||Death Penalty Abolitionist|
|1929||Alfred Emmanuel Smith||Statesman||1997||Rev. Virgilio Elizondo||Theologian and Activist|
|1930||Frederick Philip Kenkel||Publicist||1998||Dr. Edmund D. Pellegrino||Medical Ethicist and Educator|
|1931||James J. Phelan||Businessman||1999||Philip Gleason||Professor Emeritus of History, Notre Dame|
|1932||Stephen J. Maher||Physician||2000||Andrew McKenna||Chairman of the Board of Trustees|
|1933||John McCormack||Artist||2001||Msgr. George G. Higgins||Priest and Labor Activist|
|1934||Genevieve Garvan Brady||Philanthropist||2002||Father John Smyth||Executive Director of Maryville Academy|
|1935||Francis Hamilton Spearman||Novelist||2003||Peter and Margaret O'Brien Steinfels||Editors of Commonweal|
|1936||Richard Reid||Journalist and Lawyer||2004||Father J. Bryan Hehir||President of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Boston|
|1937||Jeremiah D. M. Ford||Scholar||2005||Dr. Joseph E. Murray||Surgeon & Nobel Prize Winner|
|1938||Irvin William Abell||Surgeon||2006||Dave Brubeck||Jazz Pianist|
|1939||Josephine Van Dyke Brownson||Catechist||2007||Patrick McCartan||Chairman of the Board of Trustees|
|1940||General Hugh Aloysius Drum||Soldier||2008||Martin Sheen||Actor|
|1941||William Thomas Walsh||Journalist and Author||2009||NOT AWARDED (SEE BELOW)|
|1942||Helen Constance White||Author and Teacher||2010||Dana Gioia||Poet and Chairman of National Endowment for the Arts|
|1943||Thomas Francis Woodlock||Editor||2011||Sister Mary Scullion, R.S.M., & Joan McConnon||Social Advocates|
|1944||Anne O'Hare McCormick||Journalist||2012||Ken Hackett||Former President of Catholic Relief Services|
|1945||Gardiner Howland Shaw||Diplomat||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)|
|1946||Carlton J. H. Hayes||Historian and Diplomat||2014||Kenneth R. Miller||Professor of Biology at Brown University|
|1947||William G. Bruce||Publisher and Civic Leader||2015||Aaron Neville||R&B Singer|
|1948||Frank C. Walker||Postmaster General and Civic Leader||2016||Joseph Biden; John Boehner||Vice President of the United States; former Speaker of the House of Representatives|
|1949||Irene Dunne Griffin||Actress||2017||Father Greg Boyle, S.J.||Founder of Homeboy Industries|
|1950||General Joseph L. Collins||Soldier||2018|
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.
- "The Laetare Medal". University of Notre Dame. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
- 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. Archived from the original on 2012-02-07.
- 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.