By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — The bell of Ambrose Hall tower, which had been silent for 61 years, rang again Sept. 20 as Ambrose Hall was blessed in celebration of a $5.6 million exterior renovation.
The bell had been silenced since chimes from Christ the King Chapel took over ringing duties on the campus in 1953.
During the blessing, Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, president of St. Ambrose University, welcomed those in attendance, especially the class of 1964, celebrating its 50th class reunion during homecoming week.
The exterior renovation of Ambrose Hall began in April 2013 and was substantially completed by December 2013. The work included replacement of 550 windows to their historical look and unique size. The entire building was surrounded in scaffolding for months as work was done. Work in the tower included removing asphalt shingles— used as a cost-saving measure during a 1960s renovation — and uncovering the original roof. Old slate pieces found in the roof were used to match the original colors of the roofing, and historic photographs were used to replicate the design.
A small metal balcony was installed over the main staircase as one had been there decades ago. The outside main staircase to the second or “main” floor was to be modified to meet today’s building code. But when it was taken down it broke into pieces. Old photographs once again were used to make the replicated stairs match the original as close as possible.
“What we think is the best feature of the building is now the tower that includes all the details it had in the 1880s,” Sr. Lescinski said. A clock on the south side of the tower was installed, which glows in the evening. The clock was in the original plans for the building, but never installed. “It brought tears to my eyes as I drove by (the first time it was lit),” she said.
Sr. Lescinski emphasized that during the entire renovation Ambrose Hall was never shut down. Concessions were made by contractors, such as no drilling during exam week. “This is a masterpiece,” Sister said.
Father George McDaniel, author of “A Great and Lasting Beginning: The First 125 Years of St. Ambrose University,” shared excerpts of the university’s growth. The first class of 33 boys walked into what was then known as St. Ambrose Academy (located at Sacred Heart) 134 years ago. Today, more than 3,500 men and women are enrolled in undergraduate, master and doctoral programs.
Fr. McDaniel told the audience it was the dream of the Davenport Diocese’s first bishop to have a college. Bishop John McMullen founded St. Ambrose Academy and wanted to see it grow. A year after the academy opened, his successor, Bishop Henry Cosgrove, wanted to fulfill Bishop McMullen’s dream.
The original hall was built on the current campus in 1885, with additions in 1892, 1902, 1908, 1912 and in 1916 LeClaire Hall, which was added on the back.
Fr. McDaniel said the bell of Ambrose Hall rang to signify the end of World War I and many other important events. It rang for class times. It rang to tell time.
Father Chuck Adam, chaplain and campus ministry director, blessed the hall and sprinkled it with holy water saying “May Ambrose Hall always be a home of truth and wisdom, of faith and good will toward all. May all the learning, the administrative work, the discussions and the community that is formed here contribute to the building up of your kingdom of justice, light and peace.”
After intercessions, Fr. McDaniel pulled the rope to ring the bell for the first time in decades. It is located in the office of Gary Monnard.
“What a beautiful sound to hear the bell of Ambrose Hall ring again,” Sr. Lescinski said. “And what a beautiful site this renovated building is for us and the many students, faculty and staff who will follow in our footsteps.”
The ceremony closed with the singing of Ambrosian Oaks.