Ken Hackett, former president of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), will receive the 2012 Laetare Medal during the May 20 Commencement Ceremony, the University announced Sunday. The Medal, established at Notre Dame in 1883, is the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics. It 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,” according to a University press release. University President Fr. John Jenkins praised Hackett’s compassion and strong commitment to worldwide outreach throughout his tenure at CRS. “Ken Hackett has responded to a Gospel imperative with his entire career,” Jenkins said in the press release. “His direction of the Catholic Church’s outreach to the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and unsheltered of the world has blended administrative acumen with genuine compassion in a unique and exemplary way.” After serving CRS in various capacities since 1972, including a stint as its regional director for Africa and in several posts throughout Africa and Asia, Hackett was appointed president of CRS in 1993, according to the press release. He held the position for 18 years until his retirement in December. Hackett was succeeded by Carolyn Woo, former dean of the Mendoza College of Business. Hackett, a native of West Roxbury, Mass., became interested in international service when he enrolled in the Peace Corps following his graduation from Boston College in 1968 because he said “it seemed like an interesting thing to do.” Hackett’s experiences living in a Catholic mission and working in an agricultural cooperative project in rural Ghana demonstrated the “actual impact of American food aid on the health and well-being of very poor kids in a very isolated part of a West African country,” he said in the press release. After completing his Peace Corps assignment, he continued his commitment to service by beginning his CRS career in Sierra Leone, where he administered both a maternal and child health program and a nationwide leprosy control program. While serving as CRS regional director for Africa, Hackett addressed the agency’s response to the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85 and supervised CRS operations in East Africa during the Somalian crisis of the 1990s, according to the press release. During his tenure as the agency’s sixth president, Hackett oversaw the redoubling of CRS efforts to engage the American Catholic community in worldwide service work by reaching out to Catholic organizations, dioceses, parishes, and colleges and universities throughout the country. CRS also incorporated lay people into its board of directors under Hackett’s supervision. The organization, one of the world’s most effective and efficient in global relief and development, now operates in more than 100 countries with a staff of nearly 5,000, according to the press release. In addition to his service as CRS president, Hackett also served as the North America president of Caritas Internationalis, the coalition of humanitarian agencies of the Catholic Church. He continues to serve as an adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and as a board member of the Vatican Pontifical Commission Cor Unum. Hackett was awarded an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 2007. He also holds honorary degrees from Boston College, Cabrini College, University of Great Falls, College of Notre Dame of Maryland, Mount St. Mary’s University, New York Medical College, Siena College, University of San Diego, Santa Clara University, Villanova University and Walsh University. The Laetare Medal is named in celebration of Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent and the day Notre Dame announces its recipient each year. The 2011 Medal was jointly awarded to Sr. Joan McConnon and Sr. Mary Scullion, founders of Project H.O.M.E. Previous recipients include President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and jazz composer Dave Brubeck.