Lawrence S. Cunningham — Christus Magister Medal

The University’s highest honor  the Christus Magister (Christ the Teacher) Medal is awarded to the prolific and popular author, essayist, scholar, and theology professor Lawrence Cunning­ham of the University of Notre Dame. Author and editor of some twenty books about Catholicism and religions, literary columnist for Commonweal magazine for many years, Cunningham is that rare and lovely breed of writer once best known as "man of letters," although he is a renowned and respected teacher at Notre Dame, where he has won three awards for his craft, including the Father Ned Joyce, C.S.C., Award for Teaching in 2008. He will retire in 2012 after 24 years at Notre Dame, 21 years at Florida State University, and guest stints all over the world, and plans to “putter in the garden, watch birds desultorily, write, listen to the radio, haunt art museums, visit our daughters, and follow Notre Dame sports — particularly women’s soccer, which I hope will not offend my friends at the University of Portland.”

Raised in Florida, Cunningham earned his undergraduate degree at Saint Bernard’s College Seminary in New York, and then earned an STL in theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he ­"decided I would make a better academic than a priest," he says, smiling. He then earned a master's in literature and a doctorate in ­humanities at Florida State, where he began his teaching and scholarly careers in 1967. His first book, Brother Francis: Writings By and About Saint Francis of Assisi, was published in 1972; among his many other books are Mother of God (1982), Catholic Prayer (1989), Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master (1992), John Henry Newman: Spiritual Texts (2004), and his newest, Things Seen & Unseen (2010), a collection of piercing and witty highlights from his journals of many years; an excerpt of this book appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of the University’s Portland Magazine.

For all his deserved acclaim as a scholar and professor of theology (and perhaps no one ever contributed more entries to more ­dictionaries and encyclopedias of religion than Lawrence), the wider impact of his intellect and creativity may well be the millions of readers who have read his lively and penetrating essays and articles in periodicals around the world some 400 pieces, in a startling array of magazines including The Tablet, America, The Christian Century, U.S. Catholic, Church, Spirituality (in Ireland), The Bridge (in Asia), Notre Dame Business Magazine, The Merton Seasonal, and many more. If the primary task of a committed Catholic life is to share the genius of the Word, so that many more hearts might be opened and souls saved, then Lawrence Cunning­ham has served well and faithfully, despite his affection for Notre Dame women’s soccer.

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