St. Ambrose grads, ‘you have made it’

Anne Marie Amacher
Seniors from St. Ambrose University-Davenport, listen to commencement speaker Sister Mary Thomas, PBVM, May 18 at the Vibrant Arena at the Mark in Moline, Ill.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

MOLINE, Ill. — Four short years ago, most of the class of 2020 was unable to attend their high school graduation, said Amy Novak, president of St. Ambrose University in Davenport. “We welcomed you to Plexiglas, arrows and policies. But friends, you have made it.” Novak made those remarks as she opened the undergraduate commencement ceremonies at the Vibrant Arena at the Mark on May 18. Earlier that day, the university celebrated the graduate commencement and doctoral hooding.

Novak presented an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Diane Murtha at the graduate commencement and to Sister Mary Thomas, PBVM, at the undergraduate ceremony. Murtha earned a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Business Administration and an MBA from St. Ambrose University.

She retired in 2016 after a 32-year career as a U.S. Department of Army civilian at the Rock Island Arsenal, in Washington, D.C. and at various European locations. In 2018, Murtha launched her own business — Diane L. Murtha.


Sister Thomas, Novak said, “embodies the quintessence of spiritual devotion and service” and has “committed herself wholeheartedly to a vocation of service and advocacy.” During her commencement speech, Sister Thomas asked the gathering to take a moment to “lovingly gaze upon all those in attendance. God looks upon us with delight.”

She said the offer of an honorary doctorate took her by surprise and she needed time to think about it. “Accepting was one way that I could acknowledge the crowd of believers who brought me to this day,” Sister Thomas said, accepting the honorary degree on behalf of the Presentation Sisters.

Venerable Honora Nagle (known informally as Nano) founded the religious community in the mid-1700s. Born into a wealthy family, she “could not bear going to parties when she could see the poor and sick huddled in the streets,” Sister Thomas said. “Her response was to teach the poor children in Cork, Ireland. At the time, educating Catholic children was illegal. So her risk was enormous. Yet education was a pathway to hope and empowerment and it still is.”

The Presentation Sisters arrived in the Dakota Territory on a mission of education in the 1800s. A diphtheria epidemic led the sisters to begin a mission of health care. “Time and again, the sisters have demonstrated a willingness to respond to unmet needs with a nimbleness that speaks to the spirit actively engaging their heart and soul….”

“I see Nano’s willingness to help all in need and those who carry her spark reflected in the heart and soul of the students, faculty and administration at St. Ambrose University. You have also looked out over the horizon and taken proactive steps to meet the challenges of our day. Thank you for continuing to shine the twin lights of St. Ambrose and Nano whenever our world has grown dark and cold with indifference. I am sure Ambrose and Nano have found a kindred spirit in each other.”

Sister Thomas told the graduates, “When we allow God to gaze fully on us, we see our reflection most accurately. Every choice shapes who we become. … God is choosing to become one with us in every minute and through us to grace others.” She added, “Be mindful that we are already created in the image and likeness of God. As we grow in the gifts of the Spirit, we give a clearer expression of that image as the face of God — God incarnate. We do God no favors by playing small. God is love.”

In conclusion, she said, “The journey within is the most profound journey we can take. God’s first language is silence. Carve out intentional quiet space daily. Pray for the grace to desire this gift. Please do not miss this wonder. It is never too late to begin this journey. God’s time is not our time. … Our world waits with longing for your fresh energy and enthusiasm, your depth of faith and your commitment to making tomorrow better than today all the days of your life.”

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *