Amanda Skofstad | April 2, 2019
Norman C. Francis, longtime beloved president of Xavier University of Louisiana, will receive the University of Notre Dame’s 2019 Laetare Medal — the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics — at Notre Dame’s 174th University Commencement Ceremony on May 19 (Sunday).
“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 bestowing the Laetare Medal upon him, Notre Dame recognizes his leadership in the fight for social justice through educational empowerment.”
During 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.
At a time when the U.S. Supreme Court — based on a legal challenge to Louisiana law regarding “separate but equal” — upheld segregation as the law of the land, St. Katharine Drexel founded Xavier, America’s only historically black and Catholic university, in 1925. Heir to a banking fortune, Drexel also founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and used her entire inheritance to advance racial equality for African-Americans and Native Americans, especially through education. Drexel’s influence permeates Francis’ achievements.
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