The long goodbye: St. Ambrose president makes announcement

Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Thomas Zinkula talks with Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, before a press conference Aug. 25. Sister Lescinski, president of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, will retire next August.


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, the longtime president of St. Ambrose University, announced Aug. 25 that she will retire from her post 11 months from now in early August 2021. A search for her successor will begin within the week, she said during a news conference in the Rogalski Center on the university’s campus.

Now in her 14th year as president, Sister Joan, as she is best known, has guided St. Ambrose University’s significant growth in its curriculum and major expansion of its academic, residential and athletic facilities.

“It has been an incredible privilege for me to serve as the 13th president of St. Ambrose University,” Sister Joan said. “In conjunction with the Board, faculty, staff, our alumni and generous donors, we have been able to enhance the buildings and infrastructure that support our students’ academic and extracurricular experiences.”


A consummate relationship builder, she admitted to bittersweet feelings this final year as president and in concluding nearly a half-century of service to Catholic higher education, most especially during a pandemic that limits in-person interactions and gatherings.

Bishop Thomas Zinkula, who chairs the St. Ambrose University Board of Trustees, was among those at the limited, in-person gathering of board members, university personnel and media representatives. “The members of the Board of Trustees express our heartfelt thank you to Sister Joan for her outstanding years of service as the 13th president of the university. We look forward to working with her closely during her final year of service to continue the many important initiatives that will strengthen the university in the coming years,” he said.

In a brief interview with The Catholic Messenger, Bishop Zinkula noted that the average tenure of a university president is around seven years. Sister Joan’s longevity as president speaks to her leadership abilities, he said. “She’s a strong leader, a person of integrity. She is personable. She’s collaborative.”

Two of the board’s trustees who will serve on the Presidential Search Committee also attended the news conference, one in person and one over the internet. John Anderson, SAU ’87 in person, and Renee Citera, SAU ’81, from Chicago, expressed their gratitude to Sister Joan for her service and provided information about the search for her successor.

WittKieffer, the global executive search firm that will assist the university in the national search process, also assisted in the selection of Sister Joan to succeed Edward Rogalski as president in 2007.

During Sister Joan’s presidency, St. Ambrose has added a Master of Physician Assistant Studies program, which debuted as the third such program in Iowa in 2014, and a Bachelor of Arts in Business and Healthcare Sales degree program, which debuted in 2016 as the state’s first business degree program focused solely on sales.

Other graduate program additions include the Master of Speech-Language Pathology, the Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, and the Master of Public Health. The university also added a third doctoral program when the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program was accredited in 2016, completing its conversion from a master’s program. Pace-setting undergraduate programs such as Sales, Biomedical Laboratory Science and Cybersecurity are among several new bachelor degree offerings added under Sister Joan’s leadership.

“We look forward to working with Sister Joan during this last year of her service,” said Anderson. “She has pledged to assist the Board of Trustees in any way we need and she will be a central figure in assisting the president-elect in the transition process.”

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