Francis at 10: A Papacy of Possibilities

Tammy Norcross-Reitzler
Students from St. Ambrose University in Davenport participate in an Antioch Retreat March 3-5 at Ss. Mary & Joseph Parish in Sugar Creek. Engaging with one another and modeling what it means to be in relationship with Jesus Christ is an expression of faith embraced by the university and Pope Francis, whom the university is celebrating March 16-18 with a conference titled “Francis at 10: A Papacy of Possibilities.”

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ papacy with a conference March 16-18 featuring several speakers with close ties to the Holy Father is especially appropriate for St. Ambrose University, its president says.

“Fundamentally, St. Ambrose himself was a real model of many of the attributes that Pope Francis is inviting us to embrace in this renewal of Cath­oli­cism,” St. Am­brose Uni­ver­sity Presi­dent Amy Novak told The Catholic Messenger. “For me, it’s rooted in who we’re named after. It’s rooted in that Catholic and diocesan heritage … How do we embrace our responsibility as Catholics to live in and with and for our community?”

“Francis at 10: A Papacy of Possibilities,” is “an opportunity to bring leaders, students, faculty, staff and community members together to listen to one another and to be intentional about how we want to do this work as we go forward,” Novak said. St. Ambrose invited internationally known speakers to the conference to explore with participants the emphases of Pope Francis’ pontificate. Some 27 academic sessions expand on those emphases, such as synodality, economic justice and reaching out to the peripheries.


“It’s about celebrating his papacy and the profound impact that Pope Francis has had not only on the Catholic Church but on the world in general,” said Paul Koch, St. Ambrose University’s provost and vice president of academic and student affairs.

Among the conference participants with close connections to the Holy Father are Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States; Cardinal Joseph Tobin, CSsR, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey; and Austen Ivereigh, biographer of Pope Francis.

Cardinal Tobin, who serves on papal commissions, councils and congregations, will preside at vespers to open the conference March 16 and Archbishop Pierre will preside at the closing Mass on March 18. They will celebrate the liturgies in Christ the King Chapel.

During dinner following vespers, St. Ambrose Chamber Singers will debut an original composition, “Venite Exultemus,” by William Campbell, an award-winning music professor at the university, which commissioned the piece and will send it to Pope Francis, Novak said.

Thomas Higgins, a St. Ambrose graduate (’67) and major supporter of his alma mater, will give the opening keynote address. He is funding the conference because he believes the mission of Pope


Francis and the university are in alignment. Catholic Social Teaching, which is a part of the university’s “DNA,” also provides the framework for Pope Francis’ pontificate. He is “faithful to this vision of the Church as being inclusive and taking a pastoral view of humanity,” Higgins said. “He’s been very clear in his encyclicals and in his public statements about the Church needing to engage in the world, particularly in the areas of war and peace, people seeking asylum, people who are victims of economic inequality, and stewardship of the planet.”

The pope’s fidelity to inclusion and his pastoral framework for the Church fosters empowerment of the laity, “which is the direction that Vatican II originally began,” Higgins added. He admires Pope Francis’ courage in naming and shaming injustices in the world and his emphasis on synodality, which means mutual listening to others to gain understanding and to learn.

Novak said Pope Francis’ invitation to the faithful to participate in the Synod presented a remarkable opportunity for the Church. “Never before had anyone asked, ‘What breaks your heart, what fills your soul?’” The pope’s “commitment to synodality is an expression of the faith that has the possibility to be lived out in powerful ways … to engage with one another and to model what it means to be in relationship with Christ.”

“Coming out of the synod conversations, I was inspired by the way in which students desired the Church to recapture its attention to the social teachings of the Church,” Novak said. “This is a way to kick off that recommitment to Catholic Social Teaching that’s been in the DNA of this university for a very long time.”

This renewed commitment to Catholic Social Teaching reinforces St. Ambrose’s strategic plan, “inspired by the students, staff and faculty who gave input in the synodal process about what brings them joy about the Church, what warms their hearts about the Church,” Novak said. “It is these aspects of the Church that invite us to be sojourners with our fellow citizens in the community, walking alongside people as they are working through the challenges in life.”

The intergenerational dialogue that takes place at the conference “can be a model of what good synodality looks like,” she said. Novak also hopes participants take away from the conference “the joy of our faith and the beauty of coming together from all different backgrounds… to be inspired about what we can do together.”

Higgins emphasizes the conference as a celebration “of the important milestones of Francis’ pontificate and an appraisal of how the Synod fits in with the directions we can point to from Vatican II. This is a pope who does not seek to have the Church retreat to more of a fortress mentality. He’s taking on unapologetically the mission of the Church to be in and of the world. I find that pretty inspiring.”

Celebrating Pope Francis’ 10 years
What: “Francis at 10: A Papacy of Possibilities”
When: March 16-18
Where: St. Ambrose University, Davenport. All keynotes are in the Rogalski Center Ballroom. All liturgies are in Christ the King Chapel.

Keynote speakers: Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, CSsR, archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, who also will preside at vespers at 5 p.m. March 16 to open the conference; Thomas Higgins; Anthony Annett; Massimo Faggioli; Austen Ivereigh; Kerry Alys Robinson; Phyllis Zagano; and Joshua McElwee. The event will conclude with a closing Mass March 18 at 5 p.m. hosted by the Papal Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.

Thursday, March 16 — 5-6:15 p.m., vespers, Christ the King Chapel; 7-9 p.m., opening dinner and keynote featuring Thomas Higgins and SAU Chamber Singers’ performance of an original composition by William Campbell.

Friday, March 17 — 8:30-9:25 a.m., keynote by Cardinal Tobin; 10:30–11:25 a.m., keynote #2 by Austen Ivereigh on “Turning to the Spirit and to the People: Francis’ ‘great reform;’” 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m., lunch keynote featuring Joshua McElwee, National Catholic Reporter, on “Covering the Pope of Surprises;” 1-1:55 p.m., keynote #3 featuring Phyllis Zagano, “Catholic Social Teaching, Synodality, and Women;” 2:30–3:30 p.m., keynote #4, Anthony Annett on “Pope Francis and the Economy.”

Saturday, March 18 — 8:30-9:25 a.m., keynote #5 featuring Kerry Alys Robinson; 10:30–11:25 a.m., keynote #6 featuring Massimo Faggioli on “Synodality in a Local Church: Enlarging the Tent of the Field Hospital;” 3-3:55 p.m., keynote panel reflection featuring all keynote speakers; 5 p.m. closing Mass in Christ the King Chapel with Archbishop Pierre presiding.

Walk-in registration is available. Cost to attend the full conference in person is $75. An option to view select presentations via livestream will also be available for $50. Emails can be sent to

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