By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Sister Joan Lescinski’s “love of students is SAU — Sacrificial, All-inclusive and Unconditional — just like a mother’s love,” said Bishop Thomas Zinkula during a farewell Mass for the president of St. Ambrose University (SAU) on May 9, Mother’s Day.
Sister Lescinski will retire later this summer after 14 years at the helm. The farewell Mass in Galvin Fine Arts Center and graduation ceremonies this coming weekend close out the 2020-21 academic year for St. Ambrose University.
Originally scheduled for outdoors, the Mass moved indoors due to wet, windy and cold conditions. The center was near maximum capacity for COVID-19 restrictions. Bishop Zinkula presided at the Mass. Concelebrating were Father George McDaniel, a retired SAU history professor and priest of the diocese; Father Thom Hennen, outgoing campus chaplain; and Fathers Denis Hatungimana and Adrian Kaimukirwa, African priests studying at the university.
During his homily, Bishop Zinkula reflected on lessons learned from the pandemic. In “our vulnerability and powerlessness, God has an opportunity to teach us something. Modern-day life is fast, busy, loud crazy…. The pandemic slowed us down, which hopefully allowed us to be a little more reflective and see things a bit more clearly.”
… “Hopefully, the pandemic is helping us to reconsider our priorities. Hopefully, we are focusing more on our faith and spirituality… focusing more on living a more deep and meaningful life, on eternal life,” he said. “In the context of today’s readings, what have we learned from the pandemic here at SAU? Hopefully it has taught us about unity, joy and love.”
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus came to save everyone —Jews and Gentiles. “We are all children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ… we are all united. We are one.
What did the pandemic teach us about unity? You came together and pulled together as a university community. You followed the SAU protocols — masks and distancing. It wasn’t perfect. There were some lapses along the way (you are human after all) — but at the end of the day you acted in solidarity.”
In 1 John, “Jesus tells us to remain in his love and keep the commandments so that his joy may be in us and our joy might be complete. What did the pandemic teach us about joy? Your unity allowed you to get through a difficult academic year successfully.”
Bishop Zinkula quoted the familiar passage from John’s Gospel (15: 9-17) … “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This year of the pandemic has taught lessons about love, he said. “Sister Joan has witnessed for us what it looks like to selflessly and lovingly lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This has no doubt been one of the most, if not the most, challenging years in her almost 50-year career in Catholic higher education. But she rose to the occasion because of her love for all of you.”
Concluding his homily, Bishop Zinkula said, “may these be lessons that all of us have learned over the past year. After having been broken in various ways by the pandemic, may we rise again and embrace a new life. May we awaken to the wonderful life, ready to live more fully the abundant life Jesus came to bring us.”
Father Hennen and Tammy Norcross-Reitzler, campus ministry director, presented Sister Lescinski with a slate artwork of St. Joseph created in the distinctive style of the late Father Edward Catich. The artwork honors Sister’s life as a Sister of St. Joseph, and the Year of St. Joseph. A larger version is on display in Christ the King Chapel.
“We hope that this image may bring together a couple of your ‘worlds’ as a Sister of St. Joseph and as a proud Ambrosian, and will serve as a reminder to you of our enduring respect and affection,” Father Hennen said. Tearing up, Sister Lescinski thanked the campus ministry team for the artwork.
Although she still has a few months on the job, she gave thanks to the many people who have been a part of her 14 years as the university’s president. “A thank you to our faculty, staff, trustees and friends of the university who enable us to carry on our mission to students,” she said. Thanking the students, she encouraged them to “take this mission of service to others with the education you have been given and the degrees you will earn here and carry that message of God’s unconditional love into a world so sorely in need of justice, mercy and compassion. I will join you in that as I go forth. This community will be in my heart and my prayers as long as I live. Thank you and may God bless you.”
As she walked from Galvin Fine Arts to the Rogalski Center for an indoor picnic after Mass, Sister Lescinski said she is taking away a sense of community. “I didn’t know Iowa, the Quad-Cities community or St. Ambrose. They took me in and taught me about our state, the community and St. Ambrose. I will do the same for Dr. Amy Novak (incoming president of St. Ambrose).”