Get to know Saint Ambrose of Milan at SAU’s international conference in Davenport

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Admirers of St. Ambrose of Milan are preparing for an international conference to educate and inspire more people about the saint’s impact on Christianity. The two-day event, which includes a workshop to help parishes and schools integrate their own patron saints in their communities, will be held April 6-8 at St. Ambrose University (SAU) in Davenport.

One of the early “doctors” of the church, St. Ambrose influenced theology, spirituality, the arts, social justice and diplomacy. These are the key components of Catholic Intellectual Tradition, said Father Bud Grant and Ethan Gannaway, directors of the Academy for the Study of St. Ambrose of Milan at SAU.

Titled “Saint Ambrose of Milan:

(Re-)constructing Community,” the conference aims to enlighten participants about the ways that St. Ambrose engaged the world in which he lived. Some 37 speakers from seven European countries and from throughout the United States will share their expertise. “They’ve all published articles or books on St. Ambrose and his role in the early church,” Fr. Grant said. Speakers’ topics range from how St. Ambrose re-imagined Roman society to his influence on the Middle Ages and even the Reformation, two pivotal times in church history that occurred long after St. Ambrose lived.

“From Milan to the World: Ambrose and the Christian Community,” the first keynote lecture (April 6 at 6:30 p.m.), will be presented by Rita Lizzi of the Università degli Studi di Perugia, Italy. The Rev. J. Warren Smith of Duke Divinity School will give the second keynote lecture (April 7 at 4:30 p.m.) on “Ambrose and Augustine/Teacher and Pupil.”

Fr. Grant describes Smith’s address as especially significant because “Augustine is the great-grandfather of the Reformation. Reform theologians and other religious people see Augustine as their go-to theologian. They believe that Ambrose supplies that same sort of support for reform theology. At the time of the Reformation, there was an explosion in publication of Ambrose’s work by both Catholic and Protestant book makers.”

Father Brian Dunkle, S.J., of Boston College, will give a presentation (April 7 at 8 p.m.) on the hymns of St. Ambrose and how he used them to teach theology to non-academicians. “Immediately afterwards, our choir will perform new arrangements of these hymns, which has been financed by the Academy,” Fr. Grant said. “All of this takes place in Christ the King Chapel. That is absolutely going to be the highlight.” The talk and concert afterwards are open to the public at no charge.

The conference’s closing day, April 8, features a presentation titled “Ours is the Ministry,” the spirituality of Ambrose of Milan. Presenters are Father Allan Fitzgerald, O.S.A., who directs the Augustine Institute at Villanova University, and Fr. Dunkle. Both are Ambrose scholars of international regard and are deeply spiritual in their approaches, Fr. Grant said.

The keynotes and the workshop are the most accessible for the general public. Six or seven SAU faculty members and recent alumni will also give talks on St. Ambrose of Milan from the perspective of the humanities and the sciences. Their lectures, aimed at scholars, will start off the conference. “It’s so exciting to have so many of our in-house faculty members tackle something outside of their wheelhouse,” Fr. Grant said. “Three things we want to have are world-class scholars on campus, students studying abroad about St. Ambrose and making our campus more aware of our patron saint. This conference highlights all three of these goals.”

Conference, workshop info

What: Saint Ambrose of Milan Conference and Workshop
When: April 6-8, St. Ambrose University, Davenport
Conference registration: April 6, 3-8 p.m., Rogalski Center on campus
Conference: 4 p.m. April 6 to 2:30 p.m. April 8
Cost: $100 per person.
Free admission: Two keynote talks; April 6 at 6:30 p.m. and April 7 at 4:30 p.m., Rogalski Center; a concert, following talk April 7 at 8 p.m., Christ the King Chapel
Workshop: The spirituality of St. Ambrose of Milan
When: April 8 from 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Where: Rogalski Center
Cost: $25 per person
Lodging: Options available online at registration site
To register: Go to www.saintambroseofmilan.com and click on 2018 conference

The workshop

Two priests, friends as well as scholars of Saint Ambrose of Milan, will lead a workshop to inspire parishes and schools to discover the charism, or gift, of their own patron saint. The workshop takes place April 8 from 2:30-4:30 p.m. in the Rogalski Center at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Its intended audience is parishes, parochial schools and other religious or lay people interested in incorporating St. Ambrose into their pastoral, spiritual, liturgical and educational ministries. Cost is $25 per person.

Father Allan Fitzgerald, O.S.A., director of the Augustine Institute at Villanova University, and Father Brian Dunkle, S.J., of Boston University, will refer to St. Ambrose of Milan as an example during the workshop.

“Franciscans know what St. Francis means and Benedictines know what St. Benedict means,” said Father Bud Grant, an SAU theology professor. “But what about a school, a diocesan school, or a parish that is a diocesan parish? What might they be able to draw from the name of their patron saint, and that saint’s life and contribution to the faith that would be unique to their community?”

Inspiration for the workshop comes from a visit with an expert on the saint in Italy. Fr. Grant and Ethan Gannaway, both directors of SAU’s Academy for the Study of St. Ambrose of Milan, spoke with that expert, Msgr. Cesare Pasini, prefect of the Vatican Library. He also serves as spiritual director for a cloistered group of nuns in northern Italy, the Romite Ambrosiane. Their community, begun centuries ago, is the only one with the charism of St. Ambrose of Milan, Fr. Grant said.

“For me, the Ambrosian charism is integrating the Catholic Intellectual Tradition with the liberal arts. Ambrose was one of those guys who believed that you should use your brain and exercise your faith, both of which God gave you,” Fr. Grant said “There is no inconsistency between what our faith tells us and what our brain tells us.”

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