By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — There was a “buzz” around the St. Ambrose University campus as students moved on campus and welcome week activities began Aug. 19-21. This was the first time many welcome week activities took place in person since 2019, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jason Richter, assistant dean of students and director of student engagement, welcomed freshmen and their families to St. Ambrose during the convocation Aug. 19 in the Wellness and Recreation Center. “We hope this is a transformative year,” he said, encouraging students to grow, ask questions and listen to others in their journey at St. Ambrose.
Father Ross Epping, the university’s chaplain, offered an opening prayer. “We give thanks to our parents, families, friends, guardians, mentors and all who have helped make these students who they are today. In the tradition of this university, help us to open our hearts that we might be ready to say goodbye to what was and to be open to what will be.”
St. Ambrose University President Amy Novak encouraged students to open their hearts and minds as they study at St. Ambrose. She joked that yes, she was on her third outfit of the day as she changed due to rain and then humid conditions as she visited with students and families on campus. She referenced bees because of the connection to St. Ambrose. Legend says that Ambrose’s father found his infant son’s face covered with bees — yet was not stung. Novak said the hive — or the campus — is a way to “bee” connected with one another.
She noted that St. Ambrose invited women, the foreigner and the poor to give input. St. Ambrose University “is a place that is inclusive. Give your gift to be who you want to be.” The university “is deeply committed to serve the community,” just as the saint served his community, she said.
“Be willing to explore and try new things,” she told the freshmen. “Bee” connected in the classroom, on the field, in the arts and with various clubs and activities. Novak said last year, her first year, she and her husband Ken invited more than 300 students over the course of the year to their house. The couple planned to invite students again this year. “As the parent of eight children, three in college,” she told parents that their students are in a safe place to grow and nourish their minds. “We are an Ambrose family.”
Following prayer intercessions, Father Epping asked parents and their students to bless each other. On Aug. 21, the university community celebrated Mass in the morning in the chapel and outdoors in the evening on the lawn outside the Wellness and Recreation Center. During the outdoor Mass, Father Epping reflected on how the Gospel passage from Luke, chapter 13, fit well with the first week of school. Some students might be feeling loneliness and separation. Jesus, too, was lonely and isolated on the road to Jerusalem. The people’s hearts were not on fire. “No one was listening.”
Some 2,000 years later, “we still have that happening,” Father Epping said. Some people live their lives in a “silo” with like-minded people, where they feel safe and no one bothers them. Jesus, the good shepherd, preached of a need for a change of heart. “At St. Ambrose you have the gift of opportunity to stretch yourself. We celebrate diversity. We strive to find unity. God created us to experience newness, transformation, joy, love, unity. The reason we don’t recognize Christ is because we have not spent enough time being open to him.” Father Epping encouraged the students to “embrace everything this university gives to you and what God gives to you.”
The priest blessed the students at the end of Mass, encouraging them to follow the Spirit with confidence, the Spirit of life and love, the Spirit who longs to lead them to abundant joy and unending community. The Spirit who challenges them to be women and men of truth, freedom, peace and justice. He prayed, “Grant them the wisdom and time to dig deep, to ask questions and to never be satisfied with mediocrity.”