John J. Brennan, chairman, Notre Dame Board of Trustees: Citation for the 2022 Laetare Medalist

Author: Notre Dame News


As a special education teacher, you dedicated your career to supporting and guiding those most at risk in your community. But after spending 38 years in the service of others, you did not seek a quiet retirement. Instead, you were called to join a new fight.

Over the course of your life in St. James Parish, you have witnessed the transformation of your beloved home from bountiful farmland to a region burdened by a proliferation of chemical plants and refineries. You have seen dear friends and family members succumb to diseases caused by environmental toxins and watched as a dark cloud of industrial pollution has fallen over your community.

This crisis, which has disproportionately affected people of color and those already marginalized, has caused many to despair or to flee. At a time when others found no cause to hope, when they encouraged you to give up or to move from the land that had been in your family for generations – you chose to rise up for the people of St. James Parish.

You began humbly with a gathering of 10 friends and neighbors in your living room. Now, as founder and director of Rise St. James, you have given voice to the voiceless, you have faced down the goliaths that threaten the health of your community, and you have brought national attention to the issue of environmental racism.

You have stated, “I know God has me here for a reason, so I want to do His will. He put a fight in me that I can’t even explain. I’ve gotten closer to Him. And I’m so glad I’m closer to Him because now we can fight anything.”

Indeed, by heeding God’s call, you serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration. In celebration of your steadfast faith, principled leadership and dedication to protecting the vulnerable, the University of Notre Dame bestows upon you its highest honor, the Laetare Medal


Sharon Lavigne

St. James, Louisiana