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Sheen to receive Laetare Medal

Amber Travis | Friday, May 16, 2008

Actor Martin Sheen will be honored as the 132nd recipient of the University’s Laetare Medal during the undergraduate commencement exercises Sunday.

The medal is awarded to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

It was first awarded in 1883 and is regarded as the most distinguished honor given to American Catholics, akin to the Golden Rose – a papal award dating back to the 11th century.

Sheen will rank among notable American Catholics like activist Dorothy Day and former President John F. Kennedy, who have previously received the award.

Last year, the Laetare Medal was awarded to the chair of Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees, Patrick McCartan, who has been listed by surveys conducted by the National Law Journal as one of the most influential and respected lawyers in the country.

Sheen, best known for his work in film and the NBC drama “West Wing,” is a controversial recipient of the award due to his positions in favor of homosexual rights. However, University President John Jenkins said Sheen deserves the award because the way he has used his fame to influence Catholic social issues.

“He has used [his] celebrity to draw the attention of his fellow citizens to issues that cry out for redress, such as the plight of immigrant workers and homeless people, the waging of unjust war, the killing of the unborn and capital punishment,” Jenkins said in a press release.

Jenkins also commended Sheen for his dedication to the Catholic faith.

“We welcome the opportunity to lift up his example for our Church, our country, and our students,” he said.

University Associate Vice President, Counselor to the President and Chairman of the Laetare Medal committee Father James McDonald also supports Sheen as the recipient of this award even though it may be controversial.

“No one who has distinguished themselves in a public way will be without critics, and Mr. Sheen has his share,” McDonald said.

“I would invite even his critics to spend a few moments with him this weekend and I think they will recognize in him those values we hold dear at Notre Dame and that the seniors who graduate this weekend will remember him for a long time.”

He said taking in the lifetime of Sheen’s commitment to the Catholic faith qualifies him for this award and outweighs anything he may have said contrary to Catholic teachings.

“No one phrase on a given day disqualifies him,” McDonald said. “One needn’t know too much about the environment of Hollywood and its pressures to notice a life-long happy marriage, a devotion to Mass and the sacraments and constant promotion of social justice to know that his example is worthy to be held up for recognition at Notre Dame.”