St. James Founder Sharon Lavigne will Receive the Laetare Medal for her Work as an Environmental Justice Advocate

Data News Staff Edited Report

Sharon Lavigne is the embodiment of service and commitment to her community. She is a retired Special Education Teacher turned Environmental Justice Advocate. For her work she will receive what the University of Notre Dame describes as the oldest and most prestigious honor for American Catholics.
The university will present the Laetare Medal to Rise St. James founder Sharon Lavigne on May 15th, during commencement ceremonies in South Bend, Indiana.

“Through her tireless activism, Sharon Lavigne has heeded God’s call to advocate for the health of her community and the planet — and to help put an end to environmental degradation which so often disproportionately victimizes communities of color,” Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins said in a news release.

“In awarding her the Laetare Medal, Notre Dame recognizes her leadership and her courage as a champion of the environment, a voice for the marginalized and a steadfast servant of our creator.”

Lavigne created Rise St. James in 2018, a year that plastics companies in China and Taiwan announced plans to build in St. James Parish, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Wanhua Plastics planned a $1.25 billion complex in Convent and Formosa Plastics got permits for a $9.4 billion complex.
Wanhua canceled its application in 2019, saying it had scaled back its plans and was looking at another site.

Because of her impactful work, last year, a Pentagon official ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to make a full environmental study of Formosa Plastics Group Member FG LA LLC’s plans for ten chemical plants and four other major facilities. And Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan made the parish one of the stops in his “Journey to Justice” tour.

The Laetare Medal has been awarded annually since 1883 to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

Other Louisiana recipients have included was given in 2019 to retired Xavier University of Louisiana President Norman L. Francis in 2019, Singer Aaron Neville in 2015 and Sister Helen Prejean in 1996.

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