By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — St. Ambrose University honored two alumni with the McMullen Award for their dedication to faith, service and education. Father Robert McAleer and Thomas Sunderbruch received the awards at the end of Mass on Dec. 8 in Christ the King Chapel on the university campus.
The McMullen Award, presented annually to individuals who “embody St. Ambrose’s mission of enriching the lives of others,” began with the first ceremony in 2006. St. Ambrose University President Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, conferred this year’s awards after Bishop Thomas Zinkula blessed them.
Father McAleer, a retired priest of the Diocese of Davenport, graduated from St. Ambrose College in 1967. He served parishes in West Point, Augusta, Fort Madison, Harper, Clear Creek and Bettendorf. He also previously served on faculty at Notre Dame High School in Burlington. Since retirement, he has worked with Unbound, an organization dedicated to families living in poverty.
Sister Lescinski said, “‘Father Mac,’ I have to tell you, your parents would be so proud. They’d be proud of the way you care for your parishioners, the way you dedicate yourself so fully to caring for the poor and the way you bring Christ to others. They would be so proud, and I would tell them, ‘he learned from the best.’”
She noted that Father McAleer’s parents “may not have had much, but they had each other, their children and their faith in God.” St. Ambrose has been fortunate to “count you as a member of our kin, not only as an alumnus, but also as a donor and volunteer. We’ve benefited from your selfless nature, through your service on our Board of Trustees, and our students have benefited from the generosity of your family scholarships. You’ve made a bright future possible for future Ambrosians, just as your parents did for you.”
Sunderbruch, who graduated from St. Ambrose College in 1961, served his career at Assumption High School in Davenport as a history and English teacher, football coach, guidance counselor, athletic director, assistant principal and finally principal. After retirement from Assumption, he served as adjunct professor in St. Ambrose University’s educational leadership program until 2004.
Following the death of his first wife, Judy, in 2014, he established the Judith L. Sunderbruch ’60 Nursing Scholarship to benefit students and honor Judy’s legacy as a pediatric nurse. He and his wife, Julie, continue to support the education of St. Ambrose students through the 1882 Society and President’s Club and as members of the Bishop McMullen Legacy Circle.
“Tom, you’ve dedicated your life to educating others and those who know you well know your career has been a labor of love,” Sister Lescinski said. “Certainly, there were long days where you wondered if you were making a difference, but after 40 years and over 8,000 graduates of Assumption High School, it’s easy for those gathered here to say, ‘Yes, your impact is profound.’”
Sunderbruch has shepherded generations of young men and women along their paths of self-discovery she said. “You modeled how learning was a lifelong activity that can happen anywhere, not just in a classroom. You promoted that an education rooted in the Catholic faith provides a firm foundation to build upon for a lifetime.”
Sister Lescinski thanked Sunderbruch for the hours, days and years he dedicated to educating others. “You are truly walking in the footsteps of our patron saint, Saint Ambrose, a great teacher in the church.”
After Mass, Father McAleer said he was stunned to receive a call about the McMullen Awards. “I don’t always get recognized as I am usually the guy behind the scenes.” He credits his parents, who did not get beyond an eighth-grade education but made sure their children continued their studies. Sunderbruch said he was “stunned and pleased” to get the phone call. “I don’t feel worthy. This has been very emotional to me. I hope I can live up to this award.”