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Former ambassador to Vatican will receive Laetare Medal

Aaron Steiner | Monday, March 23, 2009

Former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon will be the 133rd recipient of the Laetare Medal, the highest award given by Notre Dame. She will receive the Medal during the 2009 Commencement ceremony on May 18, the University announced Sunday.

The Laetare Medal is called “the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics,” according to a University release, and has been awarded annually since 1883 to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

Glendon, who served as ambassador to the Holy See in 2008, is currently the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. She is also the current president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, appointed to that position by Pope John Paul II in 1994. She was the first woman to be named president of one of the major pontifical academies. She also served on the President’s Council on Bioethics under President George W. Bush from 2002 to 2005.

University President Fr. John Jenkins called Glendon “a remarkable woman” who “has lived a life of service to the Church” in an interview with The Observer Sunday.

“She’s probably the most powerful spokesperson for the Catholic viewpoint in our world today,” Jenkins said.

In a press release, Jenkins said Glendon is “a compelling expositor of Catholic social teaching who exemplifies our University’s most cherished values and deserves its highest praise.”

Jenkins said Sunday that Glendon’s presence at Commencement – where President Barack Obama is scheduled to give the main address – will be a strong representation of the Catholic viewpoint.

“In inviting President Obama, we will listen to him. But I think it’s important he will listen to others. And I can’t think of a better spokesperson for the Catholic viewpoint than Mary Ann Glendon,” Jenkins said. “We’re very honored to have her.”

A scholar of law and philosophy, Glendon’s areas of academic research include bioethics, comparative constitutional law and international human rights. She is the author of numerous books, including “A Nation Under Lawyers: How the Crisis in the Legal Profession is Transforming American Society,” and “A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Glendon graduated from University of Chicago Law School, where she served on the law review.

The most recent recipients of the Laetare Medal include actor and activist Martin Sheen in 2008, former Notre Dame Board of Trustees chair Patrick McCartan in 2007 and jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck in 2006.

Other notable Medal recipients include President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean and Civil War Gen. William Rosecrans.

The Laetare Medal was established in 1883 at Notre Dame as an American counterpart to the Golden Rose, a papal honor given since the 11th century. The award is named for Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent. The medal bears the Latin inscription, “Magna est veritas et prevalebit” which means “Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail.”

Jenn Metz contributed to this report.