As the writer James Baldwin once said to a group of teachers, “The paradox of education is precisely this: that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”
While you are the product of Catholic education from kindergarten to juris doctor, you were also born into the American South at a time when even Sunday Mass was segregated. Had you despaired at the society in which you were being educated, no one could have blamed you. But you didn’t.
Instead, as the first African American student admitted to Loyola University New Orleans Law School, you broke the color barrier for those who came behind you. As the beloved president of Xavier University for a remarkable forty-seven years, you built a better society by educating thousands of African American students, and, as adviser to popes and presidents, you called your Church and country to racial justice.
As you have said, “Education is the road out of poverty; there is no doubt about that.” You have helped pave that road for thousands of young people. And when the levee broke in New Orleans, the loss of your own home did not distract you from leading the recovery efforts—at Xavier and beyond.
For your persistent witness to the power of Catholic education; for your visionary courage that shepherded a storm-weary region to restoration and rebirth; for your love of God and country that won’t rest until all are equally free as intended by their Creator, the University of Notre Dame rejoices to confer its highest honor, the Laetare Medal on
Norman Christopher Francis
New Orleans, Louisiana