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