Sunday, March 11, 2018

Finalmente, The Dome's Rose Es "De Oro" – Rio Grande's "Mother Teresa" Named Laetare Laureate

Amid a second spring for American Catholicism's most storied and prestigious honor, it's still a rarity for the University of Notre Dame to tap a Laetare Medal recipient who checks the proverbial boxes both within the church and the world outside....

But they sure did it this time.

In a historic choice for the accolade envisioned as the US equivalent of the ancient "Golden Rose" conferred by the Popes, this Fourth Sunday of Lent brought word of the prize's 135th laureate: Missionaries of Jesus Sister Norma Semi Pimentel (above), head of Catholic Charities in South Texas' 1.6 million-member Brownsville diocese, a figure rocketed to broad prominence as her frontline role in ministering to immigrants and refugees has increasingly taken a polarizing center stage on church and civic fronts alike.

With today's announcement, Sister Norma becomes the first Latina ever to be awarded the Laetare, and just the second Hispanic laureate in the prize's history – the last one, in 1997, was likewise Tex-Mex: Fr Virgilio Elizondo, the early theologian-prophet of the US church's Latin ascendancy. (The founder of San Antonio's Mexican-American Catholic College and long affiliated with Notre Dame, Elizondo committed suicide in 2016 after an accusation of sexual abuse against him was reported.)

In another sign of this edition's significance, Pimentel is the first woman of color to receive the medal since 1990's selection of the Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, a prize which would become posthumous as the mighty, Mississippi-born Franciscan of Perpetual Adoration – the apostle of Black Catholicism's "second golden age" of the 1970s and '80s – died of bone cancer at 52 before it could be conferred. Among the nation’s women religious at large, Pimentel is the first nun-winner since 2013's joint award to the co-founder's of Chicago's SPRED ministry for people with special-needs, Sisters Susanne Gallagher and Mary Therese Harrington.

Developing – more to come.