Aaron Neville has a tremendous devotion to St. Jude.
He wears a medal of the saint on his earrings. #awesome
I have a feeling that if—19 years from now you ask a member of the Class of 2015 who their speaker was, they might do the same. While the Commencement speaker was the chancellor of Oxford University, Christopher Patten, this year's Laetare recipient was four time-Grammy Award-winning singer and musician, Aaron Neville. That's right, Aaron Neville of the melodious, rockin' Neville Brothers.
As written for Notre Dame news, “Aaron Neville proudly embraces and honors his faith through his God-given musical talents,” said Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. “Through tumultuous times in his life, Aaron turned to God, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Jude for strength, forgiveness, and salvation. His example of repentance and devotion shine brightly for all who see him perform.”
This year might have been an appropriate one for that distinction, but given Neville's response, I can't think of a greater gift for a graduating class, their families, and the alumni community. How so? I have noticed that not a lot captures the attention of teenagers at our all-school mass. But there's always one thing that does. When a student sings as prayer.
When this happens, and our liturgist teaches and models how students can do this, it's captivating. It's prayer in its highest form (or prayer twice as Aquinas might say). When that's accented by someone who has "the voice of an angel," it's that much deeper, richer and sweeter. Aaron Neville is no exception.
Granted this context is different, but the community's response is no different. Neville says little but leaves much for the graduates. To hear him sing "Ave Maria" is something I want to pray with and remember. I encourage you to watch the link above to see/hear it.
When I was on campus in February, I came across a public commemoration of the Laetare Medal. In the basement of the Main Building stands an impressive ambo that features the likeness of the medal, its significance and a book that profiles each recipient. The stories of the lives it includes is tremendous. From Dorothy Day, to Martin Sheen, jazz composer Dave Brubeck and even the former captain of the men's basketball team—Rev John P Smyth. He dedicated his life in service to the poor of Chicago. What I love about this award is a simple fact that anyone can glorify God by using the unique gifts and talents they have been given.
I'm grateful that this year's honoree has done that in a way that speaks to me—music and prayer....one in the same.
Aaron Neville's Instagram account
I took to photo of the Laetare Ambo and page