April 15, 2016

Little Sisters of the Poor receive Evangelium Vitae Medal

By John F. Fink

The Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame honored the Little Sisters of the Poor on April 9 with its Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life) Medal for their service to the elderly poor.

The celebration included Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame followed by dinner. Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass.

Members of the order who minister in Indianapolis at the St. Augustine Home for the Aged and their supporters attended the Mass and dinner. Msgr. William Stumpf, vicar general, and Msgr. Joseph Schaedel, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis and former vicar general, were among the concelebrants at the Mass.

The Little Sisters of the Poor have been battling the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over its mandate that they insure their employees for contraception, abortifacients and sterilization. Their case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 23.

The first reading for the Mass, from the Acts of the Apostles, recounted how St. Peter told the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Bishop Rhoades said in his homily that the Little Sisters of the Poor, by refusing to obey the HHS mandate, are indeed obeying God rather than men. The congregation responded with a standing ovation that continued for nearly five minutes.

Bishop Rhoades went on to say that, when civil laws contradict God’s law, we must obey God’s law.

O. Carter Snead, director of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, presided at the banquet and presented the medal to Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

He said that the Little Sisters in America “became the face of religious nonprofits standing against the federal mandate that would require them to facilitate access to contraceptives via their health care plan, in violation of their dedication to the sanctity of life at all stages.”

The program for the event described the Evangelium Vitae Medal as “the most significant lifetime achievement award for heroes of the pro-life movement, honoring those whose outstanding efforts have served to proclaim the Gospel of Life by steadfastly affirming and defending the sanctity of human life from its earliest stages.”

The Little Sisters were founded in France in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan. They operate in more than 30 countries around the world and serve more than 13,000 low-income seniors. Their mission statement says that they offer “the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.”

Eight members of the order minister at the St. Augustine Home in Indianapolis. They and more than 100 staff members and volunteers provide a home for 96 elderly residents.

The mission of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture is “to share the richness of the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition through teaching, research, and dialogue, at the highest level and across a range of disciples.”

Holy Cross Father William Lies, vice president for mission engagement and church affairs, represented the university at the banquet.

(John F. Fink is editor emeritus of The Criterion.)

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