Actor Martin Sheen : Laetare Medal
Posted by patchouli on March 5, 2008
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (CNS) – Actor Martin Sheen, whose human rights activism may be as well known these days as his acting credits, has been named the 2008 recipient of the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, the school’s oldest and most prestigious honor.The award was established in 1883 as an annual honor for a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”
“As one of our nation’s most recognizable and accomplished screen actors, Martin Sheen has achieved a level of celebrity that few Americans enjoy,” said Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president.
“He has used that celebrity to draw the attention of his fellow citizens to issues that cry out for redress, such as the plight of immigrant workers and homeless people, the waging of unjust war, the killing of the unborn and capital punishment,” the priest said in a statement.
“We welcome the opportunity to lift up his example for our church, our country and our students,” Father Jenkins said.
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Sheen was born Aug. 3, 1940, one of 10 children of a Spanish-born father and an Irish-born mother.
His legal and baptismal name is Ramon Gerardo Antonio Estevez, but he later took his stage surname from Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose style on his popular national television broadcasts the actor really admired. Sheen once said he considers the archbishop “the first televangelist.”
After his graduation from Marianist-run Chaminade High School in Dayton, Sheen claims to have intentionally failed his entrance examination for the University of Dayton, also a Marianist school, so he could pursue an acting career of which his father disapproved.
Borrowing money from a priest friend, he went to New York City, where he worked with Julian Beck’s Living Theatre and eventually landed a widely acclaimed role in the 1964 Broadway play “The Subject Was Roses.”
During this period, he learned about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, visiting and volunteering at the Catholic Worker’s houses on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Sheen has played numerous award-winning television and film roles, most notably an amoral young murderer in the 1973 film “Badlands,” a disillusioned Army captain in the 1979 film “Apocalypse Now,” a bemused journalist in the 1982 biopic “Gandhi,” and the itinerant French co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Peter Maurin, in the 1996 film “Entertaining Angels.”
From 1999 to 2006, on NBC’s widely acclaimed television series “The West Wing,” he played U.S. President Josiah Bartlet, who was a Notre Dame graduate.
A self-described Catholic peace activist, opponent of abortion and student of Catholic social teaching, Sheen often says he owes a spiritual debt to Day, St. Francis of Assisi, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan and the late labor leader Cesar Chavez.
He often has been arrested as a participant in nonviolent demonstrations against various U.S. military policies, including protests at Fort Benning, Ga., where the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation is located.
He returned to his Catholic faith and put his activism in high gear, he said, after recovering from an emotional breakdown following what had been a grueling production schedule for “Apocalypse Now,” Francis Ford Coppola’s epic about the Vietnam War.
That activism “comes from my faith and my humanity,” Sheen told CNS. “I believe that Jesus was nonviolent and he calls us to a nonviolent discipleship. And I think we are either going to embrace nonviolence or nonexistence. Those are the rules. Sorry, I didn’t make them up.”
The Laetare Medal is so named because its recipient is announced each year in celebration of Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent on the church calendar.
Recipients include Civil War Gen. William Rosecrans, operatic tenor John McCormack, President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day, novelist Walker Percy, Chicago Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin, and death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph of Medaille.
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