Norman C. Francis, longtime president of historically Black Xavier University of Louisiana, is the recipient of the University of Notre Dame’s 2019 Laetare Medal, the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics. Established at Notre Dame in 1883, the Laetare Medal was conceived as an American counterpart of the Golden Rose, a papal honor that dates from 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.”
During Dr. Francis’ 47-year tenure as president, Xavier’s enrollment nearly tripled, the endowment grew eightfold and the university became the leading producer of African-American undergraduates who complete medical school. Xavier also ranks first nationally in the number of African-American students earning undergraduate degrees in biology and life sciences, chemistry, physics, and pharmacy.
“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. “In bestowing the Laetare Medal upon him, Notre Dame recognizes his leadership in the fight for social justice through educational empowerment.”
Dr. Francis was the first African-American admitted to Loyola University in New Orleans where he earned his juris doctorate. He has received an honorary doctor of laws degree and a second honorary doctorate both from the University of Notre Dame.