Laetare Medal

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Laetare Medal
Sponsor University of Notre Dame
Date Laetare Sunday
Location University of Notre Dame
Country United States
First awarded 1883

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[2] award for American Catholics.


Rev. Hesburgh presents the 1961 Laetare Medal to President John F. Kennedy. Fr Edmund P. Joyce to the side.

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.[3][4] The Laetare Medal was conceived by University of Notre Dame professor James Edwards as an American version of the papal award the Golden Rose.[5][6] 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."[7] The medal is awarded during commencement at Notre Dame, during which the laureate delivers a remark.

A candidate for the award must be a practicing American Catholic who has made a distinctively Catholic contribution in his or her 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.[4]


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. Both Catholic Presidents of the United States, Kennedy and Biden, are recipients of the award.

2009 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 for naming Barack Obama as its commencement speaker and grant him an honorary degree, stated:

"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."[8]

Notre Dame ultimately selected 1984 Laetare recipient Judge John T. Noonan, Jr. to speak, choosing not to award the 2009 medal at all.[9]

List of recipients

Year Laetare Medalist Position Year Laetare Medalist Position
1883 John Gilmary Shea Historian 1953 I.A. O'Shaughnessy Philanthropist
1884 Patrick Charles Keely Architect 1954 Jefferson Caffery Diplomat
1885 Eliza Allen Starr Art Critic 1955 George Meany Labor Leader
1886 General John Newton Engineer 1956 General Alfred M. Gruenther Soldier
1887 Edwin Preuss Publicist 1957 Clare Boothe Luce Diplomat
1888 Patrick V. Hickey Founder and Editor of The Catholic Review 1958 Frank M. Folsom Industrialist
1889 Anna Hanson Dorsey Novelist 1959 Robert Daniel Murphy Diplomat
1890 William J. Onahan Organizer of the American Catholic Congress 1960 George N. Shuster Educator
1891 Daniel Dougherty Orator 1961 John F. Kennedy President of the United States
1892 Henry F. Brownson Philosopher and Author 1962 Francis J. Braceland Psychiatrist
1893 Patrick Donahoe Founder of the Boston Pilot 1963 Admiral George Whelan Anderson, Jr. Chief of Naval Operations
1894 Augustin Daly Theatrical Producer 1964 Phyllis McGinley Poet
1895 Mary Anne Sadlier Novelist 1965 Frederick D. Rossini Scientist
1896 General William Starke Rosecrans Soldier 1966 Patrick F. & Patricia Caron Crowley Founders of The Christian Movement
1897 Thomas Addis Emmet Physician 1967 J. Peter Grace Industrialist
1898 Timothy Edward Howard Jurist 1968 Robert Sargent Shriver Diplomat
1899 Mary Gwendolin Caldwell Philanthropist 1969 William J. Brennan Jr. Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
1900 John A. Creighton Philanthropist 1970 Dr. William B. Walsh Physician
1901 William Bourke Cockran Orator 1971 Walter Kerr & Jean Kerr Drama Critic and Author
1902 John Benjamin Murphy Surgeon 1972 Dorothy Day Founder of the Catholic Worker Movement
1903 Charles Joseph Bonaparte Lawyer 1973 Rev. John A. O'Brien Author
1904 Richard C. Kerens Diplomat 1974 James A. Farley Business Executive and Former Postmaster General
1905 Thomas B. Fitzpatrick Philanthropist 1975 Sr. Ann Ida Gannon, BMV President of Mundelein College
1906 Francis J. Quinlan Physician 1976 Paul Horgan Author
1907 Katherine Eleanor Conway Journalist and Author 1977 Mike Mansfield Former Senate Majority Leader
1908 James C. Monaghan Economist 1978 Msgr. John Tracy Ellis Church Historian
1909 Frances Tieran (Christian Reid) Novelist 1979 Helen Hayes Actress
1910 Maurice Francis Egan Author and Diplomat 1980 Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. Speaker of the House
1911 Agnes Repplier Author 1981 Edmund Sixtus Muskie Secretary of State
1912 Thomas M. Mulry Philanthropist 1982 John Francis Cardinal Dearden Archbishop Emeritus of Detroit
1913 Charles George Herbermann Editor of the Catholic Encyclopedia 1983 Edmund & Evelyn Stephan Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees and his wife
1914 Edward Douglass White Chief Justice of the United States 1984 John T. Noonan, Jr. Lawyer
1915 Mary Virginia Merrick Philanthropist 1985 Guido Calabresi Dean of the Yale Law School
1916 James Joseph Walsh Physician and Author 1986 Thomas & Mary Elizabeth Carney Chairman of the Board of Trustees and his wife
1917 Admiral William Shepherd Benson Chief of Naval Operations 1987 Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC President of the University of Notre Dame
1918 Joseph Scott Lawyer 1988 Eunice Kennedy Shriver Founder & Chairwoman of the Special Olympics
1919 George L. Duval Philanthropist 1989 Walker Percy Novelist
1920 Lawrence Francis Flick Physician 1990 Sister Thea Bowman (posthumously) Educator
1921 Elizabeth Nourse Artist 1991 Corinne Lindy Boggs Former Louisiana Congresswoman
1922 Charles Patrick Neill Economist 1992 Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Senator from New York
1923 Walter George Smith Lawyer 1993 Donald R. Keough Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees
1924 Charles Donagh Maginnis Architect 1994 Sidney Callahan Educator and Journalist
1925 Albert Francis Zahm Scientist 1995 Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Archbishop of Chicago
1926 Edward Nash Hurley Businessman 1996 Sister Helen Prejean Death Penalty Abolitionist
1927 Margaret Anglin Actress 1997 Rev. Virgilio Elizondo Theologian and Activist
1928 John Johnson Spalding Lawyer 1998 Dr. Edmund D. Pellegrino Medical Ethicist and Educator
1929 Alfred Emmanuel Smith Statesman 1999 Philip Gleason Professor Emeritus of History, Notre Dame
1930 Frederick Philip Kenkel Publicist 2000 Andrew McKenna Chairman of the Board of Trustees
1931 James J. Phelan Businessman 2001 Msgr. George G. Higgins Priest and Labor Activist
1932 Stephen J. Maher Physician 2002 Father John Smyth Executive Director of Maryville Academy
1933 John McCormack Artist 2003 Peter and Margaret O'Brien Steinfels Editors of Commonweal
1934 Genevieve Garvan Brady Philanthropist 2004 Father J. Bryan Hehir President of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Boston
1935 Francis Hamilton Spearman Novelist 2005 Dr. Joseph E. Murray Surgeon & Nobel Prize Winner
1936 Richard Reid Journalist and Lawyer 2006 Dave Brubeck Jazz Pianist
1937 Jeremiah D. M. Ford Scholar 2007 Patrick McCartan Chairman of the Board of Trustees
1938 Irvin William Abell Surgeon 2008 Martin Sheen Actor
1939 Josephine Van Dyke Brownson Catechist 2009 NOT AWARDED (SEE BELOW)
1940 General Hugh Aloysius Drum Soldier 2010 Dana Gioia Poet and Chairman of National Endowment for the Arts
1941 William Thomas Walsh Journalist and Author 2011 Sister Mary Scullion, R.S.M., & Joan McConnon Social Advocates
1942 Helen Constance White Author and Teacher 2012 Ken Hackett Former President of Catholic Relief Services
1943 Thomas Francis Woodlock[10][11] Editor 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)

1944 Anne O'Hare McCormick Journalist 2014 Kenneth R. Miller Professor of Biology at Brown University
1945 Gardiner Howland Shaw Diplomat 2015 Aaron Neville R&B Singer
1946 Carlton J. H. Hayes Historian and Diplomat 2016 Joseph Biden John Boehner Vice President of the United States (and later President of the United States)

former Speaker of the House of Representatives

1947 William G. Bruce Publisher and Civic Leader 2017 Father Greg Boyle, S.J. Founder of Homeboy Industries
1948 Frank C. Walker Postmaster General and Civic Leader 2018 Sister Norma Pimentel, M.J. Executive Director, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley
1949 Irene Dunne Griffin Actress 2019 Dr. Norman Francis President Emeritus, Xavier University of Louisiana and civil rights leader
1950 General Joseph L. Collins Soldier 2020 Kathleen McChesney Former FBI executive assistant director and director of USCCB Office of Child Protection
1951 John Henry Phelan Philanthropist 2021 Carla Harris Finance executive, gospel artist, and motivational speaker
1952 Thomas E. Murray Member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission 2022 Sharon Lavigne Environmental justice activist and founder of RISE St. James


  1. Skinner, Rosemary, (editor), 2006, Encyclopedia of Women And Religion in North America, Indiana University Press, p. 877, ISBN 0-253-34685-1.
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  3. Laetare medal to labor priest, Archived 2008-07-06 at the Wayback Machine Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 2001.
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  7. Tomme, Alyson, 2001-05-18, Higgins wins Laetare Medal, Archived 2006-11-07 at the Wayback Machine The Observer.
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  10. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. open access publication - free to read
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External links

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