By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Dozens of students, faculty and staff marched silently Jan. 29 through the St. Ambrose University campus to commemorate the Civil Rights Movement and acknowledge the Ambrose community’s active role in the movement throughout the decades.
Ryan Saddler, the university’s associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, welcomed participants inside Cosgrove Hall to start the march, which takes a different route each year. Chaplain Father Ross Epping said a prayer and challenged the gathering to reach out to people living on the margins and to call for changes in society to benefit the common good.
Ken Novak, husband of St. Ambrose University President Amy Novak, who was unable to attend, talked about Civil Rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who called for people to love their enemies. “That is deep wisdom,” Novak said, “to encounter hatred with love.” He encouraged participants to move forward from the march by creating a human river spreading wisdom and truth.
Saddler explained participants would observe silence on the march as an opportunity to think about the sacrifices people have made and the encounters of hatred they have endured in striving to achieve civil rights, and to reflect on a lifestyle of love. “Think of ‘Mother’ Pollard, Charles Toney, Msgr. Marvin Mottet. Reflect on those who have gone before us. Many of you may have an image in your head of the Civil Rights Movement. There are still injustices today in 2024.”
Participants marched through campus on the mild winter day — a rarity for the annual march. As they arrived in front of Christ the King Chapel, they stopped to view the Civil Rights marker erected in 2016. Saddler told of the collaboration between St. Ambrose alumni, the city of Davenport, the Putnam Museum and others to erect seven Civil Rights signs in the city. “We put up the 8th (at St. Ambrose) to signify the role St. Ambrose played in the Civil Rights Movement.”
He encouraged participants to read the inscription on the marker that features photos of King receiving the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award and St. Ambrose students helping Hispanic immigrants build new homes after their eviction from Cook’s Point in Davenport.
The text highlights the founding of St. Ambrose (College) as a “school that educated the sons of immigrants to help give them opportunities for a better life.” It also states how the college’s community responded to Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical “Rerum Novarum.” The college also formed the first NAACP chapter on a Catholic campus, among other highlights.
Marchers moved on to the Rogalski Center where Joe Roidt, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said he is hopeful that the mission and values of the St. Ambrose community will continue through its students and alumni. The challenges of injustice still confront the world today, but hope can bring about change, he believes.
St. Ambrose held other events to mark Civil Rights Week that included book studies, Mass, documentaries, and talks.