By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT – Father Bud Grant, a theology professor at St. Ambrose University, woke up one morning wondering why the only Catholic university named for Ambrose didn’t have an academy for the study of the saint. This fourth-century bishop was one of the first doctors of the Church, after all.
Fr. Grant, who also is a St. Ambrose alumnus, converted a question into an idea and approached Aron Aji, dean of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“His response was that this was such an obvious idea he couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been done 100 years ago,” the priest said.
Next, he presented the idea to Paul Koch, the university’s vice president for Academic and Student Affairs, and then to Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, president of St. Ambrose.
“All were enthusiastic and it has just taken off since then,” said Fr. Grant, who completed a sabbatical in spring 2011 visiting sites associated with St. Ambrose in Italy, France, Germany, Greece and Turkey. He also wrote a primer on St. Ambrose and a blog called “footsteps and fingerprints.”
In a letter posted on the fledging website of The Academy for the Study of St. Ambrose of Milan, Koch wrote:
“The motto of the academy says it all: ‘Fons Luminis’ (font of enlightenment). Our patron is, for us, a source of learning, a role model for our identity, and an inspiration for our commitment to be a leading Midwestern university rooted in its diocesan heritage and Catholic Intellectual Tradition.” (The phrase “fons luminis” is taken from a hymn composed by Ambrose himself.)
Promoting scholarship, research and creative work will help the academy to fulfill its mission to advance Catholic Intellectual Tradition through the study of the university’s patron, Fr. Grant said. The academy will gain official status once the university has raised $250,000 for an endowment. About $50,000 has been raised to date, he noted.
Several elements of the academy are already in place: last fall, the university selected Ethan Gannaway as executive coordinator, named the academy and launched a website: (The Academy for the Study of St. Ambrose, which can be accessed through the www.sau.edu website). Gannaway and Fr. Grant have both been published in the Studia Ambrosiana, a publication of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan.
The Images of Ambrose gallery has opened in the library on campus, which has vastly expanded its book collection of Ambrose-related texts, and the university offers courses on Ambrose of Milan, and a study abroad course called Rome and Christianity. An Images of Ambrose virtual gallery has also been prepared for the website. The second “Ambrose’s Italy: Alumni Study Tour” will leave for Italy in a month, a third is already being prepared.
Last week, Cristiana Sogno, a professor of Classical Studies at Fordham University in New York who did her doctoral dissertation on the fourth-century, gave a lecture and moderated a symposium of student and faculty presenters in Ambrose Hall.
Among other current initiatives, Fr. Grant is translating a biography of the saint “Ambrogio di Milano,” written by Msgr. Cesare Pasini, the prefect of the Vatican Library.
“Msgr. Pasini has expressed his enthusiasm to visit us and we are preparing to invite him for the annual Feast of St. Ambrose to speak to us and concelebrate the feast day Mass, to be celebrated this year on Dec. 2 (a few days before the actual feast day),” Fr. Grant said.