By Barb Arland-Fye
Unnerved by a slippery morning run and an ominous weather forecast, I considered bringing an overnight bag to graduate class at St. Ambrose University in Davenport last weekend.
My husband Steve does not share my trepidation about winter driving conditions. In fact, he suggested that if weather conditions deteriorated, I could invite some of my classmates — who come from throughout the Davenport Diocese — to spend the night with us in LeClaire!
So I headed to class with textbooks and Bible only and spent the day immersed in the study of the apostle Paul and his letters to the Thessalonians, Galatians, Corinthians and Philemon. The weekend represented a milestone, but not because of weather. The 14 members of Deacon Class VI have reached the halfway point in their five-year formation process for the Davenport Diocese. Cake was served during our dinner together to mark the occasion. Even though I am not a deacon candidate, I am following the deacon candidates and their spouses on this journey and feel as if I am developing a bond with them.
As a bonus, I am enrolled in the Master of Pastoral Theology (MPTh) program, a joint academic endeavor of the Davenport Diocese and St. Ambrose tailored for the deacon formation program. Other non-deacon candidates besides me who are enrolled in the course are several deacons, a deacon’s wife and a St. Ambrose University faculty member. Collectively, we form a sort of second family because we study together, pray together, dine together, celebrate Eucharist together and socialize during class breaks throughout the weekend.
Hospitality extends beyond the classroom at St. Ambrose and the chapel and library at Assumption High School in Davenport where we gather for prayer, Mass and meals. Classmates offer each other a place to stay for the weekend as needed and ensure that those with young children have someone to look after them.
By Saturday night, when weather forecasters were calling for blizzard conditions overnight and into the following morning, some of us who had been planning to go home for the night had second thoughts. Class would not be cancelled. Our professor, Micah Kiel, is within walking distance of St. Ambrose and, as a Scripture scholar with a passion for the study of Paul and his letters, wanted to cover more ground on that subject.
Not wanting to miss out on that lecture and the ensuing discussion, I decided I’d spend the night in Davenport even if it meant sleeping on the floor in my office in diocesan headquarters. But my Davenport-based classmates wouldn’t hear of it. I had several offers for a place to stay. I gratefully accepted one from Deacon Frank Agnoli, deacon formation director, and his wife Marianne, a classmate.
My supportive husband, who had to drive to Davenport anyway to drop off our older son at his apartment, brought me a bag with the essentials. Well-rested, on Sunday I was ready to learn more about Paul and the intentions of his letters. The lecture, group discussion and questions were stimulating.
I left class with more questions than when I arrived, a good indication that the learning process was underway, motivating me to continue pursuing answers. Equally important, though, is the awareness of growth in my relationship with Deacon Class VI and the rest of my MPTh classmates.