Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Laetare Take Five

Every year, on this Fourth Sunday of Lent known as "Laetare Sunday" -- possibly coming to your parish tomorrow: Rose Vestments -- the University of Notre Dame awards what is traditionally recognized as US Catholicism's most prestigious honor: the Laetare Medal, which has been bestowed annually since 1883 and intended as the American counterpart to the Golden Rose (which is, of course, in the gift of the Pope and hasn't been given in a very. long. while.).

Past winners of the Medal include JFK, prolife activist Sr Helen Prejean, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Dorothy Day, Peter and Peggy Steinfels and the noted labor activist Msgr. George Higgins. Last year's went to Joseph Murray, who performed the first successful organ transplant in 1954 and won the 1990 Nobel Prize for Medicine, and the 2004 honoree was Fr J. Bryan Hehir, now president of Catholic Charities of the archdiocese of Boston.

This year, however -- the first year of the Presidency of Fr John Jenkins -- South Bend has taken a different route in awarding the Laetare, naming as its 2006 recipient the jazz musician Dave Brubeck.

Just last week, Brubeck, 85, was announced as the 10th-ever recipient of the Christophers' Life Achievement Award. Alongside his notable contributions to jazz, he's also taken a keen interest in sacred music, having written 45 works for church use over the decades. He received an honorary doctorate in Sacred Theology from the University of Fribourg last year.

In accord with the university's tradition, Brubeck will be awarded the 2006 Laetare Medal at Notre Dame's commencement in May.