After previous Laetare Medal winner Judge John T. Noonan concluded his remarks at commencement, a provost of the University informed the crowd they were witnessing something historic: this was the first time a past Laetare Medal winner had been invited back to speak at commencement. What the Provost failed to mention, however, was the reason for Judge Noonan’s invitation: for the first time the Laetare Medal was declined by its intended recipient because of the University’s decision to honor President Obama.
Dr. Mary Ann Glendon was chosen by the University to receive what many consider to be the most prestigious award for an American Catholic. Presented by Notre Dame since 1883, the Laetare Medal honors individuals "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church, and enriched the heritage of humanity." As a Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican for the past two years, there is not a more suitable candidate for this award than Mary Ann Glendon.
Ironically, the woman whom Notre Dame chose as the exemplar Catholic declined the award for exemplary Catholicism because of the University’s short-comings in Catholicism.
In her letter to Father Jenkins on April 27, 2009, Glendon declined the honor. After learning that President Barrack Obama’s would give the commencement speech and receive an honorary degree at the same ceremony, Glendon explained that her role as the Laetare Medal speaker "has been complicated by a number of factors."
She explained her dismay at learning of Notre Dame’s decision because Obama is a "prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice." Knowing that her acceptance of the Medal and her speech had been used by the University as a way to "balance" the event, Glendon was pushed to decline the medal.
She argued that a commencement "is supposed to a joyous day for graduates and their families" and not "for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision." Because Notre Dame is distinguished and praised for upholding its Catholic identity and tradition, Glendon explained her fear that this decision "could have an unfortunate ripple effect" on other Catholic universities and institutions.
After Glendon announced that she would decline the medal, the University quickly released a statement saying that they would find someone else to receive the Laetare Medal. A few days later, they University had no such luck. They reversed their decision and released a new statement saying that the Laetare Medal would not be awarded this year, but that Judge Noonan, a past Laetare Medal winner, would speak during commencement in place.
While Glendon chose not to come to Notre Dame for commencement, she did graciously accept an award from a Notre Dame student group. The Orestes Brownson Council, part of the student coalition "Notre Dame Response" that opposed the University’s decision to invite and honor President Obama, awarded Dr Glendon the Bishop John M. D’Arcy Award for extraordinary witness to the faith and service to the Church on May 17, 2009 at the group’s "Rally on the Quad" event. John Buttacci, the leader of the council, spoke of Glendon’s courageous witness to the faith and applauded her decision to decline the medal, though she most deserved it.
"Very soon after it was announced that Professor Glendon would be the Laetare Medal recipient, the Council, together with ND Response, decided that she overwhelmingly deserved to be recognized by the students," Buttaci explained.
When Glendon later declined the Laetare Medal, the students did not waver in their desired to honor Glendon themselves. "The students could not be more grateful for her example," Buttaci said.
Even though Professor Glendon could not be present to accept her award, she told students by email correspondence that she was honored to receive the award, named for someone whom she looked up to as a personal hero, Bishop D’Arcy. Further, she said that the students of ND Response gave her "great hope for the future of Notre Dame, the Church and the country."
Bishop D’Arcy, who attended the group’s demonstration that day, blessed the award.Visit our Notre Dame photo gallery: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/obama_notredame/