National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  April 25, 2003

Peter Steinfels
-- CNS/Karen Callaway
Margaret "Peggy" O'Brien Steinfels
-- CNS
Steinfels couple to receive Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal


Catholic commentators Peter and Margaret O’Brien Steinfels will receive the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal for 2003 during the university’s commencement exercises May 18.

The award, which Notre Dame calls the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics, was announced March 28, two days before Laetare Sunday, for which it is named.

“Peter and Peggy Steinfels live out and articulate a compelling response to the Catholic vocation,” said Holy Cross Fr. Edward Malloy, Notre Dame president, in a statement. “As married people, as intellectuals and as children of the church, their witness to the kingdom has been splendid and exemplary.”

Both former editors of Commonweal, the biweekly Catholic journal of political, religious and literary opinion, they have spoken to many groups of Catholics and others in the past two years about the clergy sex abuse crisis.

Margaret Steinfels, who retired in January as Commonweal editor, was one of two Catholic lay leaders chosen by the U.S. bishops to address their historic June 2002 meeting in Dallas, which was dedicated entirely to the sex abuse crisis.

Saying that the “reservoir of trust among Catholics has run dry,” she said the scandal had “brought home to laypeople how essentially powerless they are to affect its outcome -- and virtually anything else to do with the church.”

In a talk the following October to the Catholic Academy for Communication Arts Professionals, formerly known as Unda-USA, Peter Steinfels said imprecise and incomplete reporting of the clergy sex abuse scandal had prompted “a kind of free-floating outrage” in U.S. Catholics that has left them ill-equipped to fix the abuse problem.

Both natives of Chicago, Peter and Peggy Steinfels have been married since 1963.

Peter Steinfels, who currently writes the “Beliefs” column in The New York Times, graduated from Loyola University in Chicago in 1963 and holds master’s and doctoral degrees in European history from Columbia University.

While in graduate school, he began work as an editorial assistant at Commonweal. He had become associate editor before leaving the magazine in 1972 to take a position at the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank. He continued to write columns for Commonweal and returned there as editor in 1979.

He left Commonweal again in 1988 to become senior religion correspondent for the Times; Margaret Steinfels succeeded her husband as editor of the Catholic journal.

Peter Steinfels has written articles and reviews in numerous other journals and is the author of The Neoconservatives: The Men Who Are Changing America’s Politics. He also served as a visiting professor on the American studies faculty at Notre Dame in 1994.

Margaret Steinfels, also a 1963 graduate of Loyola University, holds a master’s degree in American history from New York University. She wrote film reviews for Today magazine before becoming a reporter and columnist at the National Catholic Reporter from 1969 to 1971.

In addition to her freelance writing, she was editor of the Hastings Center Report, executive editor of Christianity and Crisis, and editor of Church magazine before becoming Commonweal editor in 1988.

She is the author of Who’s Minding the Children? The History and Politics of Day Care in America. She gave the commencement address and received an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1991.

The Laetare Medal, established at Notre Dame in 1883, 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.”

Among the 124 previous recipients of the Laetare Medal are President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker cofounder Dorothy Day, novelist Walker Percy, Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin and death penalty opponent Sr. Helen Prejean.

National Catholic Reporter, April 25, 2003

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