SOUTH BEND - The University of Notre Dame has named Norman Francis, president of Xavier University of Louisiana, the recipient for this year’s Laetare Medal. Francis will be presented with the honor at Notre Dame’s 174th University Commencement Ceremony on May 19.
Established at Notre Dame in 1883, the Laetare Medal was is an American counterpart of the Golden Rose, a papal honor that dates back to the 11th century. The medal has been awarded each year at Notre Dame to a catholic individual “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

Francis has held a  47-year tenure in which Xavier’s enrollment nearly tripled, the endowment grew significantly and the university became the leading producer of African-American undergraduates who complete medical school. 

Francis accepted the offer to become the first lay African-American president of Xavier on April 4, 1968 — the same day Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

“For more than 50 years, Dr. Francis has been at the center of civil rights advocacy by leveraging the power of Catholic higher education,” said Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. in a news release. “In bestowing the Laetare Medal upon him, Notre Dame recognizes his leadership in the fight for social justice through educational empowerment.”