Laetare Medal

Laetare Medal

The Laetare Medal is an annual award given by the University of Notre Dame in recognition of outstanding service to the Roman Catholic church and society. The award is given to an American Catholic layperson "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. 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 prevalebit," meaning "Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail.

A candidate for the award must be a practising American Catholic who has made a distinctively Catholic contribution in their professional of 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 1884 medal was given to the architect Patrick Keely. The poet and art critic Eliza Allen Starr received the medal in 1885. An Omaha philanthropist named John A. Creighton was awarded the medal in 1900.

The recipients of the Laetare Medal come from varied fields. They include jazz musician Dave Brubeck, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement Dorothy Day, ambassador and author Clare Boothe Luce, US President John F. Kennedy, operatic tenor John McCormack, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, surgeon Joseph Murray, novelist Walker Percy, death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean, and American Civil War General William Rosecrans. In 1965, the thermodynamicist Frederick Rossini became the first faculty member of the University of Notre Dame to receive the medal. The 2008 recipient was Martin Sheen, a noted actor and political activist.


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