Sr. Susanne Gallagher, Sr. Mary Therese Harrington and Rev. James H. McCarthy, founders of the Special Religious Education Development Network (SPRED), will receive the 2013 Laetare Medal during the Commencement ceremony May 19.
The Medal, established at Notre Dame in 1883, is the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics. It is awarded annually to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity,” according to a University press release.
“Srs. Gallagher and Harrington and Fr. McCarthy have summoned the Church to a crucial and too often overlooked ministry,” University President Fr. John Jenkins said. “Insisting that a developmental disability neither tempers Christ’s invitation nor restricts one’s right to respond, they have ushered countless people to their rightful place at theEucharistic table.”
SPRED formed in 1960 when McCarthy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, began working with parents, special educators and catechist volunteers to make Catholic liturgies and catechesis more accessible to parishioners with developmental disabilities.
Harrington, a member of the Society of Helpers, joined McCarthy in 1963 to assist with catechetical and administrative work. Gallagher, a member of the Sisters of Providence, joined them four years later to help with administration and the training of catechists.
SPRED now provides faith formation and sacramental initiation programs to people with special needs in 28 dioceses and 200 parishes nationwide as well as in England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, South Africa, Malta and Mexico.
The Laetare Medal is named in celebration of Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent and the day Notre Dame announces its recipient each year. The Medal bears the inscription, “Magna est veritas et prevalebit,” which is Latin for “Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail.”
The 2012 Medal was awarded to Ken Hackett, former president of Catholic Relief Services. Previous recipients include President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and jazz composer Dave Brubeck.