University names Higgins Laetare Medal recipient
By ALYSON TOMME
Monsignor George Higgins can now include himself in the company of former President John F. Kennedy, social activist Sister Helen Prejean, and Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day. As the recipient of the University's Laetare Medal for the year 2001, Higgins has distinguished himself as a prominent and honorable American Catholic.
"I look at the list of who's received it before — some I've known personally or by reputation — and they are very distinguished," he said. "It feels very humbling to be in the same category."
The Laetare Medal, the oldest and most prestigious mark of distinction among Catholics, was awarded to Higgins for his work as a scholar, activist and labor priest within the Catholic Church of America. He will receive the medal on May 20th during the University's 156th Commencement proceedings.
"The long career of George Higgins shows how an ardent embrace of Catholic doctrine intensifies the hunger and thirst for justice," said University President Father Edward Malloy. "We want to honor him for following Jesus, a carpenter's son, and heeding a vocation to serve his Lord in the workers of the world."
After being ordained a priest in 1940, Higgins completed graduate studies at The Catholic University of America. He successfully pursued a master's degree in economics, and received a doctoral degree in political science from Catholic University.
Higgins' career began by serving the social action staff of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (now the United States Catholic Conference), where he was appointed director in 1954. In 1979, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops selected Higgins as the secretary for special concerns. He subsequently retired to teach theology at Catholic University.
Organized labor has been Higgins passion throughout his career. Whether participating in rallies or speaking at international meetings, he became a leading advocate of organized labor.
"All my life, I've been in the field," he said.
His list of honors has been merely lengthened as the recent recipient of the Laetare Medal. He was awarded an honorary degree from Notre Dame, which was followed by a labor studies center named in his honor in 1993.
He published a book entitled "Organized Labor and the Church: Reflections of a Labor Priest" and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The Laetare Medal, conceived in 1883 by University professor James Edwards with approval from then University president Father Edward Sorin, was established as an annual award for Catholics "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church, and enriched the heritage of humanity."
The recipient of the Laetare Medal, chosen by a committee headed by the University president, is announced in celebration of Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent. "Laetare," which is Latin for "rejoice," marks the upcoming Easter celebration.
Higgins continues to exemplify the values of the Catholic Church. He will be the 123rd individual to bear the medal that adorns the Latin phrase, `Magna est veritas et prevalebit' — `Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail.'
All News Stories for Friday, March 30, 2001