Peter and Margaret O'Brien Steinfels to receive 2003 Laetare Medal

Author: Michael O. Garvey

Peter and Margaret O’Brien Steinfels have been awarded the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal for 2003. They will receive the medal, the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics, during the University’s 158th Commencement exercises on May 18 (Sunday).

“Peter and Peggy Steinfels live out and articulate a compelling response to the Catholic vocation,” said Notre Dame’s president, Rev. Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C. “As married people, as intellectuals, and as children of the Church, their witness to the Kingdom has been splendid and exemplary.”

Both Chicago natives, Mr. and Mrs. Steinfels have been successive editors of Commonweal, an independent biweekly journal of political, religious and literary opinion published by Catholic laypeople. Both have earned national reputations as commentators on the Catholic Church in the United States.

Peter Steinfels was graduated from Loyola University in 1963 and holds master’s and doctoral degrees in European history from Columbia University. While in graduate school at Columbia, he began work as an editorial assistant at Commonweal and had become associate editor before leaving the magazine staff in 1972 to take a position at the Hastings Center, a bioethics think-tank. While at the Hastings Center, he continued to write columns for Commonweal, returning to its staff as editor in 1979.

He left Commonweal again in 1988 to become senior religion correspondent for The New York Times, where his “Beliefs” column continues to appear. He has written articles and reviews in numerous other journals and is the author of “The Neoconservatives: The Men Who Are Changing America’s Politics.” He also is a former member of the American studies faculty of Notre Dame, where he was the visiting W. Harold and Martha Welch Professor in 1994.

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels also was graduated from Loyola University in 1963 and holds a master’s degree in American history from New York University. She wrote film reviews for Today magazine before becoming a reporter and columnist at the National Catholic Reporter from 1969-71. In addition to her freelance writing, she was editor of the Hastings Center Report, executive editor of Christianity and Crisis, and editor of Church magazine before succeeding her husband as Commonweal editor in 1988. She resigned as editor earlier this year. She is the author of “Who’s Minding the Children? The History and Politics of Day Care in America,” and she gave the Commencement address and received an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1991.

The Steinfels’ were married in 1963 and are the parents of Gabrielle Hendricks and John Steinfels and the grandparents of Max Hendricks.

The Laetare (pronounced Lay-tah-ray) Medal is so named because its recipient is announced each year in celebration of Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent on the Church calendar. “Laetare,” the Latin word for “rejoice,” is the first word in the entrance antiphon of the Mass that Sunday, which ritually anticipates the celebration of Easter. The medal bears the Latin inscription, “Magna est veritas et prevalebit”—“Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail.”

Established at Notre Dame in 1883, the Laetare Medal was conceived as an American counterpart of the Golden Rose, a papal honor which antedates the 11th century. The medal has been awarded annually at Notre Dame to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

Among the 124 previous recipients of the Laetare Medal (see accompanying list) are Civil War General William Rosecrans, operatic tenor John McCormack, President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker foundress Dorothy Day, novelist Walker Percy, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, and death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean.

“The Laetare Medal has been worn only by men and women whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church, and enriched the heritage of humanity.” *

These are the exacting criteria employed by the University of Notre Dame in awarding its Laetare Medal each year. Established in 1883, the Medal was restricted to lay persons until 1968, when it was announced that henceforth priests and religious would also be eligible. Over the years the Laetare Medal has been presented to 96 men and 30 women—soldiers and statesmen, artists and industrialists, diplomats and philanthropists, educators and scientists.

The Laetare Medal is the American counterpart of the “Golden Rose,” a papal honor antedating the eleventh century. The name of the recipient is announced each year on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent and an occasion of joy in the liturgy of the Church.

The Laetare Medal was conceived in 1883 by Professor James Edwards. His proposal met with the immediate approval of Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C., founder and first president of Notre Dame, and Rev. Thomas E. Walsh, C.S.C., then president of the University. Through the years the recipients of the Laetare Medal have been selected by a committee headed by the president of Notre Dame.p. Generally regarded as the most significant annual award conferred upon Catholics in the United States, the Laetare Medal consists of a solid gold disc suspended from a gold bar bearing the inscription, “Laetare Medal.” Inscribed in a border around the disc are the words, “Magna est veritas et praevalebit” (Truth is mighty and will prevail). The center design of the medal and the inscription on the reverse side are fashioned according to the profession of the recipient. The medal itself is not intended for wear, but there is a rosette, featuring a golden rose on a blue background.

  • Excerpt from Laetare Medal citation presented to General William Starke Rosecrans in 1896.

1883 John Gilmary Shea, historian
1884 Patrick Charles Keeley, architect
1885 Eliza Allen Starr, art critic
1886 General John Newton, engineer
1887 Edward Preuss, publicist
1888 Patrick V. Hickey, founder and editor of the Catholic Review
1889 Anna Hansen Dorsey, novelist
1890 William J. Onahan, organizer of the American Catholic Congress
1891 Daniel Dougherty, orator
1892 Henry F. Brownson, philosopher and author
1893 Patrick Donohue, founder of the Boston Pilot
1894 Augustine Daly, theatrical producer
1895 Mary A. Sadlier, novelist
1896 General William Starke Rosecrans, soldier
1897 Thomas Addis Emmet, physician
1898 Timothy Edward Howard, jurist
1899 Mary Gwendolin Caldwell, philanthropist
1900 John A. Creighton, philanthropist
1901 William Bourke Cockran, orator
1902 John Benjamin Murphy, surgeon
1903 Charles Jerome Bonaparte, lawyer
1904 Richard C. Kerens, diplomat
1905 Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, philanthropist
1906 Francis J. Quinlan, physician
1907 Katherine Eleanor Conway, journalist and author
1908 James C. Monaghan, economist
1909 Frances Tiernan (Christian Reid), novelist
1910 Maurice Francis Egan, author and diplomat
1911 Agnes Replier, author
1912 Thomas M. Mulry, philanthropist
1913 Charles B. Herberman, editor-in-chief on the Catholic Encyclopedia
1914 Edward Douglas White, jurist and chief justice of the United States
1915 Mary V. Merrick, philanthropist
1916 James Joseph Walsh, physician and author
1917 William Shepherd Benson, admiral and Chief of Naval Operations
1918 Joseph Scott, lawyer
1919 George L. Duval, philanthropist
1920 Lawrence Francis Flick, physician
1921 Elizabeth Nourse, artist
1922 Charles Patrick Neill, economist
1923 Walter George Smith, lawyer
1924 Charles D. Maginnis, architect
1925 Albert Francis Zahm, scientist
1926 Edward Nash Hurley, businessman
1927 Margaret Anglin, actress
1928 John Johnson Spalding, lawyer
1929 Alfred Emmanuel Smith, statesman
1930 Frederick Philip Kenkel, publicist
1931 James J. Phelan, businessman
1932 Stephen J. Maher, physician
1933 John McCormack, artist
1934 Genevieve Garvan Brady, philanthropist
1935 Francis Hamilton Spearman, novelist
1936 Richard Reid, lawyer and journalist
1937 Jeremiah Denis M. Ford, scholar
1938 Irvin William Abell, surgeon
1939 Josephine Van Dyke Brownson, catechist
1940 General Hugh Aloysius Drum, soldier
1941 William Thomas Walsh, journalist and author
1942 Helen Constance White, author and teacher
1943 Thomas Francis Woodlock, editor
1944 Anne O’Hare McCormick, journalist
1945 G. Howland Shaw, diplomat
1946 Carlton J. H. Hayes, historian and diplomat
1947 William G. Bruce, publisher and civic leader
1948 Frank C. Walker, Postmaster General and civic leader
1949 Irene Dunne, actress
1950 General Joseph L. Collins, soldier
1951 John Henry Phelan, philanthropist
1952 Thomas E. Murray, member U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
1953 I.A. O’Shaughnessy, philanthropist
1954 Jefferson Caffery, diplomat
1955 George Meany, labor leader
1956 General Alfred M. Guenther, soldier
1957 Clare Boothe Luce, diplomat
1958 Frank M. Folsom, industrialist
1959 Robert D. Murphy, diplomat
1960 George N. Shuster, educator
1961 John F. Kennedy, President of the United States
1962 Francis J. Braceland, M.D., psychiatrist
1963 Admiral George W. Anderson, Jr., Chief of Naval operations
1964 Phyllis McGinley, poet
1965 Frederick D. Rossini, scientist
1966 Mr. and Mrs. Patrick F. Crowley, founders of The Christian Family Movement
1967 J. Peter Grace, industrialist
1968 Sargent Shriver, diplomat
1969 William J. Brennan, Jr., jurist and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
1970 Dr. William B. Walsh, physician
1971 Walter Kerr, drama critic, and Jean Kerr, author
1972 Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, journalist and author
1973 Rev. John A. O’Brien, author
1974 James A. Farley, business executive and former Postmaster General
1975 Sister Ann Ida Gannon, B.V.M., educator
1976 Paul Horgan, author
1977 Mike Mansfield, United States Senator
1978 Msgr. John Tracy Ellis, historian
1979 Helen Hayes, actress
1980 Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., Speaker of the House
1981 Edmund S. Muskie, former United States Senator and Secretary of State
1982 Cardinal John Francis Dearden, retired Archbishop of Detroit
1983 Edmund A. and Evelyn Stephan, chairman emeritus of the University of Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees and spouse
1984 John Noonan, legal scholar
1985 Guido Calabresi, dean of Yale University Law School
1986 Thomas P. and Mary Elizabeth Carney, chairman of the University of Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees and spouse
1987 Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., educator
1988 Eunice Kennedy Shriver, humanitarian
1989 Walker Percy, novelist
1990 Sister Thea Bowman, Gospel singer and evangelist
1991 Corinne C.“Lindy” Boggs, former United States Congresswoman
1992 Daniel Patrick Moynihan, United States Senator
1993 Donald R. Keough, chairman emeritus of the University of Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees
1994 Sidney Callahan, psychologist and author
1995 Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Archbishop of Chicago
1996 Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., social activist
1997 Rev. Virgil Elizondo, theologian
1998 Dr. Edmund D. Pellegrino, doctor
1999 J. Philip Gleason, historian
2000 Andrew J. McKenna, chairman of the University of Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees
2001 Msgr. George G. Higgins, labor priest
2002 Rev. John P. Smyth, executive director of Maryville Academy
2003 Peter and Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, editors of Commonweal

TopicID: 3207