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Laetare winner named

Kate Antonacci | Friday, March 18, 2005

Dr. Joseph E. Murray, the first surgeon to perform a successful organ transplant 51 years ago, has been chosen to receive the University’s 2005 Laetare Medal.

“Human lives and hopes have been wonderfully invigorated by Joseph Murray’s 1954 medical triumph,” University President Father Edward Malloy said in a press release. “The genius, erudition and skill he brought to bear in the surgical arena are all gifts from God which this good doctor has made gifts to humankind.”

The University selected Murray for his deep Catholic faith and his many contributions to science. He successfully transplanted a donated kidney from one brother to another on Dec. 23, 1954. In 1962, Murray performed the first successful kidney transplant using a kidney from a donor unrelated to the patient. For the developments made in lifesaving organ and tissue transplant techniques, he won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1990.

“Dr. Murray’s vision of medicine as a means to serve others, and his deep faith in God made him an excellent candidate. His faith is what provides the context for his work and has shaped his life,” said Father Peter Jarret, counselor to the President.

The award is meant to recognize the contributions of men and women whose faith energizes their work, Jarret said.

“A candidate for the Laetare Medal must be a practicing American Catholic who is said to have made a distinctively Catholic contribution to his or her intellectual or professional life. Ideally, the person’s professional life would be one of service to others,” Jarret said.

The recipient of the Laetare Medal is selected by a committee comprised of representatives from different academic disciplines within the University, Jarret said on behalf of the committee.

“The Committee generally solicits names from all the faculty and staff at the University, and then narrows down the field to two or three candidates. The Officers of the University then vote based on the recommendations of the committee,” Jarret said.

Murray, who was born in Milford, Mass., graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. with concentrations in Latin, Greek, Philosophy and English. He graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1943. After completing his surgical training at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Murray served as a surgeon at the U.S. Army’s Valley Forge General Hospital in Philadelphia from 1944-47.

The Laetare Medal is unique in that it is an external award given by Notre Dame to someone outside the University.

Murray will receive the award during the University’s Commencement ceremony on May 16.

“By honoring this splendid generosity, we mean to thank his benefactor, who is ours as well,” Malloy said.

Established in 1883, the Laetare Medal is one of the oldest honors given to American Catholics who have made contributions to the arts and sciences in particular. Past recipients include President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day and death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean.

“There are many people – poets, artists, musicians, scientists, scholars, statesmen, priests, religious, etc. – whose professional lives are animated by their Catholic faith, and who seek through their professions to make the world a better place and to give glory to God,” Jarret said.