Two couples honored with McMullen award

Anne Marie Amacher
Joanne and Jef Heckinger, left, and Bea and Paul Jacobson received the McMullen Award during Mass at St. Ambrose University in Davenport on Dec. 2.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Two couples were honored for their contributions to St. Ambrose University and for serving as “models of Advent hope” during a Mass celebrated Dec. 2 in Christ the King Chapel. The Mass also celebrated the Feast of St. Ambrose (whose feast day is Dec. 7) and the first Sunday of Advent.

Jef and Joanne Heckinger and Drs. Paul and Bea Jacobson received the McMullen Award named after Bishop John McMullen, the founder of St. Ambrose College and the first bishop of the Diocese of Davenport. The award honors Ambrosians and community citizens who embody the university’s mission to develop students intellectually, spiritually, ethically, socially, artistically and physically to enrich their lives and the lives of others, said President Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ.

The celebration began with Mass. Bishop Thomas Zinkula blessed the Advent wreath and St. Ambrose University Chaplain Father Thom Hennen lit the first candle. The bishop’s homily focused on today’s challenging culture and how Catholics can live with hope.


It’s hard to be hopeful today, he said. The world is dealing with global warming, global conflict and global poverty. The U.S. is polarized and divided and in need of comprehensive immigration reform. The church faces secularism and the clergy sexual abuse crisis, 2.0. At St. Ambrose, students face challenges from choosing a major to getting good grades to going into debt. The university faces challenges as a small, private liberal arts university dealing with enrollment management, fundraising and demographic changes. “But today’s readings encourage us, nonetheless, to be hopeful,” the bishop said.

Advent also offers hope. “To light an Advent candle is to say, in the face of all that suggests the contrary, that God is still alive, still the Lord of this world, irrespective of the evening news,” Bishop Zinkula said.

He described the McMullen Award recipients as “models of Advent hope.” While he taught at St. Ambrose, Paul championed lifelong learning and well-rounded scholarship. Bea taught students to listen actively, to think critically and to be creative. Jef and Joanne (Heckinger) have been devoted, steadfast supporters of St. Ambrose for many, many years through their service, action and resources.

“We face many challenges in our life,” Bishop Zinkula said. “Should we throw up our hands in despair and give up? No. Of course not. We should instead light a candle in the darkness. A candle that represents the light of Christ, the incarnate son of God, who offers us the new life that he himself experienced; he did in fact change the culture.”

In her remarks presenting the awards after Communion, Sr. Lescinski began: “I consider Jef and Joanne St. Ambrose champions because champions support, promote and advocate for the cause closest to their hearts.” She noted that the couple has supported St. Ambrose in many ways including fundraising efforts to meet the needs of students, including three of their own who attended St. Ambrose.
Jef is a member of the Board of Trustees. The couple promotes the university in Rockford, Ill., where they live, and throughout the Midwest. “They are always willing to answer the call.”

The Jacobsens, Sr. Lescinski said, taught Ambrosians for a combined 55 years — not only in the classroom but through a variety of roles and activities. They shared their love of philosophy and English and their love of learning.

Speaking directly to the couple, she said: “And those generations of students are in our communities, enriching the lives of others because of you. You taught them to be engaged, instilled confidence in them, offered them insight and kindled their fire for discovery.”

After Mass, the Heckingers said they thought that the university had mistakenly called them to receive the award. “There are so many other deserving people,” Joanne said. Jef said he knew of the award but this was his first time to attend the awards Mass. He enjoyed the experience.

Paul Jacobson, who has attended McMullen Award Masses over the years, said he reflected on his and his wife Bea’s time at St. Ambrose. “WE did accomplish a lot,” he said, emphasizing “we.” Paul taught philosophy at St. Ambrose from 1977-2012. Bea taught at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., for 20 years before teaching English at St. Ambrose where she also developed the women’s studies program.
Paul said he previously taught on the East Coast before coming to St. Ambrose. He was far from home, but discovered that “St. Ambrose is my home.”

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