By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Ambrosians and others celebrated a rededication of Davis Hall on the St. Ambrose University campus April 29 in recognition of the Diocese of Davenport’s third bishop and the strong connections between St. Ambrose and Carlow College in Ireland.
Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, president of St. Ambrose, welcomed those in attendance, including residents of Davis Hall. Also recognized were Ruth Clayton-Davis, Ragene Gwin and Kathy Conway who served on the steering committee of the Celtic Heritage Trail and the installation of the Celtic cross on campus several years ago.
Sr. Lescinski said the plaque for the rededication was made on campus and will hang inside Davis Hall.
Bishop Martin Amos, the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Davenport, blessed the plaque.
“We recall with fondness Bishop James Davis in whose memory this building is dedicated,” Bishop Amos prayed. “Today we thank you for the witness of Bishop Davis who came from Ireland as a servant to our diocese. We praise you for his life and work, his dedication to St. Ambrose and to the church.”
The bishop also prayed for a blessing on Carlow College, in gratitude “that even today we are beneficiaries of the formation Bishop Davis attained there.” Bishop Amos asked the Lord to bless the plaque. “May it keep the memory of Bishop James Davis alive for us in our hearts.”
Father Conn O’Maoldhomhnaigh, a presidential fellow from Carlow College, made the plaque possible, bringing an extract of the testimony of ordination of Father Davis with him from Carlow’s president. Fr. Conn said the college is proud that Bishop Davis was an alumnus. Members of the late bishop’s family still live in Ireland and call him uncle and are proud of the college in America.
When then-James Davis attended Carlow, Fr. Conn said students did not ask questions directly to their professors at the seminary. “You wrote your questions and sent them to the professor. You addressed it to Reverend Professor. He may or may not acknowledge your question or even give you an answer.”
Some professors kept their questions, while others threw them away. Two instructors kept their questions, which are now archived at Carlow College. Davis was a frequent questioner, Fr. Conn noted. In 1875, Davis asked what was being done to engage Catholics in higher education. Fr. Conn said education was close to Davis’ heart from the beginning.
Fr. Conn thanked Sr. Lescinski for allowing him to put together the tribute to “their own” Bishop Davis.
Father George McDaniel, a professor emeritus of St. Ambrose, historian and retired priest of the Davenport Diocese, also spoke. He noted that he himself lived in Room 230 of Davis Hall as a student in the spring of 1963.
Reflecting on Bishop Davis’ life, Fr. McDaniel said the priest was ordained in 1878 and after coming to the U.S. served at St. Raphael Cathedral in Dubuque. He later served in the communities of Windham, Holbrook, Cosgrove and Parnell in the Davenport Diocese. In 1887, Fr. Davis helped raise $20,000 throughout the diocese to pay off debt at St. Ambrose. In 1895, he was named the diocese’s vicar general.
In 1903, Bishop Henry Cosgrove asked the Vatican to appoint Fr. Davis as coadjutor bishop for the diocese. Fr. McDaniel told of the petitioning by many to have an Irish bishop appointed. Priests from Carlow College wanted Davis appointed coadjutor bishop, as did other bishops outside the diocese. But there were some who did not want him to be a bishop. The supporters got their wish. Fr. Davis was consecrated coadjutor bishop for the Davenport Diocese on Nov. 30, 1904, and became bishop on Dec. 22, 1906.
As bishop, he started an endowment for St. Ambrose and supported priests to earn their graduate degrees.
The first half of Davis Hall, named after the bishop, was built in 1922 for $109,000. An addition to the north was added in 1927 for $100,000. Bishop Davis died in 1926.
To close the rededication event, Fr. Conn sang “Being of Life” and had the crowd join in with the refrain.