Bishop celebrates nighttime liturgy with SAU students
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — St. Ambrose University student athletes dressed for work-outs and relaxation entered Christ the King Chapel on a late Wednesday night for a spiritual boost to homecoming week activities. Catholics and non-Catholics alike looked forward to Bishop Thomas Zinkula entering their world to lead them in the Mass and bestow a blessing that evening of Sept. 18.
Students selected seats toward the back of the chapel but got up and moved to the front “where there’s plenty of room,” Father Thom Hennen, the campus chaplain, told them.
Altogether, 250 or so students from the university’s football team, dance and cheer teams, marching band and color guard filled the front to middle rows of the campus chapel, along with regular participants of 9:15 p.m. Wednesday night Mass.
“Welcome to our homecoming edition of our Wednesday night Mass,” Fr. Hennen told the gathering after processing to the altar with Bishop Zinkula. “He played football as a nose guard,” the priest added. “That was a long time ago!” interjected the bishop, who played college football two decades before these students were born.
Student athletes involved in homecoming activities, regardless of religious affiliation, had been invited to attend the Wednesday night Mass. Fr. Hennen believes it is important for all students to feel welcome in the Catholic Church and for athletes to also connect with campus ministry.
So does the bishop, who focused his homily on a verse from the Apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy: “You should know how to behave.”
“That line could have been in a letter/email or text from your parents to you! They shared with you their beliefs. Your parents taught you by word and example. They helped you lay a strong, solid foundation upon which to build your life,” the bishop said. “Now you are away from home, in the driver’s seat, on your own. You have the opportunity to take ownership of your life and make your own decisions.”
“As we move through life, we build on that foundation. Without faith, we can get lost, become confused and despair. It’s easy to forget who we are and drift away from the truth. The Church is a pillar and foundation of truth.”
“St. Ambrose University wants to help you make sense of your life, help you figure out who God is calling you to be, what God is calling you to do and where God is calling you to go. We can do this by encountering one another and accompanying one another.”
The bishop identified three past recipients of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award — Dorothy Day, St. Teresa of Kolkata and Jean Vanier, each of whom sought to encounter and accompany others. Each one integrated faith and action. Their participation in the sacraments, Mass and personal prayer gave them the “strength, courage and endurance they needed for their ministry,” the bishop said.
“We know how to behave in the household of God. In effect, we are tasked with, called to, only one thing: to love; to love God and one another. That is the foundation of our Christian faith.”
Fr. Hennen invited the student athletes to come forward after the bishop’s homily. The pews practically emptied out as students swarmed around the bishop to receive their blessing. Before returning to their pews, at their chaplain’s invitation, the students shouted in unison “Go, Bees!”
After Mass, while enjoying chips, cheese and salsa in the chapel lobby, students said they felt blessed to participate in the Mass and appreciated that the bishop made time for them.
All 24 members of the university’s dance team attended the Mass said several team members, who described the liturgy as “very welcoming.” Kassidy Scheff, a Lutheran and dance team member from Bettendorf, said, “It was a blessing to kick off our dance season.”
Senior Rachel Jennings, a Catholic from Davenport, said she attends Mass most Wednesday nights at Christ the King. “It breaks up studying and gives you something to look forward to on Wednesday nights.” She appreciated seeing so many students attending Mass during homecoming week.
Senior Katie Reitz, a Catholic from west Chicago Ill., attends Wednesday night Mass as often as possible. As weather permits, Mass is celebrated at the grotto on campus, she said. “It’s very intimate. You’re very close to the altar. I like that.”
Suzanne Wiese, who works in the university’s kinesiology department, is not Catholic but attends Wednesday night Mass to hear Fr. Hennen’s homily and because “I feel so welcome in this community. They encourage me in my faith.”
When junior Megan Grady arrived on campus as a freshman, she felt nervous. As a Catholic committed to her faith, attending Mass on campus provided “that one constant in my life. It kept that sense of normalcy.” The Mass continues to sustain her. And, “it’s always super cool when (the bishop) comes out to visit.”