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Murray awarded University’s Laetare Medal

Kate Antonacci | Friday, May 13, 2005

Fifty-one years ago, Joseph E. Murray became the first surgeon to perform a successful organ transplant, removing a kidney from one brother and giving it to his identical twin brother. For this and his many other accomplishments, Murray will receive the University’s 2005 Laetare Medal at Sunday’s commencement ceremony.

“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.”

In addition to his many scientific contributions, Murray is a man of deep Catholic faith, something the Laetare medal recognizes.

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 Malloy.

The award was created 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.

The Laetare Medal is a unique University award – it is nearly always presented to someone outside the University, Jarret said.

“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.

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.