MADISON — Hundreds of staunch supporters of Catholic education and St. Ambrose Academy flocked, or rather, skated, to the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center on December 19 after a huge snowstorm for Christmas Dinner With the Bishop, the school’s major fundraiser of the year.
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| ||Bishop Robert C. Morlino and his “sous-chefs” show off the gourmet Italian meal they are preparing for the St. Ambrose dinner. With the bishop are, from left: William Yallaly and Brent King from the diocesan staff and Dan Bower from Queen Anne’s Catering. (Catholic Herald photo/Joe Ptak)|
For the second year in a row, Bishop Robert C. Morlino donned a chef hat and apron and spent the day cooking with St. Ambrose students in preparation for the festive event.
The evening included a cocktail hour and hors d’oeuvres with plenty of time to browse through items donated to the silent auction, a gourmet Italian meal, and live Christmas music. Bishop Morlino was delighted by the turnout of those who braved the weather to support the cause of St. Ambrose Academy: “I am overwhelmed by the attendance here, by the number of people!” he told those who packed the sold-out banquet hall.
With characteristic good humor, he joked, “I said to the young people this afternoon as we were cooking, ‘Maybe we should just close the school and open a restaurant, because the students are so effective and so collaborative!’”
Bishop Morlino compared the mission of St. Ambrose Academy to the Christmas tree that graced the entrance to the banquet hall, decorated with beautiful ornaments and garlands handmade by St. Ambrose students.
“The Christmas tree, to me, is always a tower of light,” said Bishop Morlino. “The beautiful tower of light reaching up to the angel, reaching up to the star — that’s what we need to think about at Christmas . . . As the Church, we are called to be the tower of light reaching up to the angel, reaching up to the star, for the whole world.
“So, very simply, let us be what we are supposed to be,” said Bishop Morlino. “And I know, especially from my experience with the young men and women of St. Ambrose . . . that that is what they are all about. They are the tower of light, reaching up, and it is very, very impressive to work with them.
“We could not do better than what we’re doing at St. Ambrose to reflect the symbolism of the Christmas tree. So I want to thank you all for being here, and I want to encourage you to do whatever you can for St. Ambrose so that the symbolism of the Christmas tree will continue to be realized at St. Ambrose and in our midst.”
Student sets bar high
Senior Andy Teeter spoke on behalf of the student body to show from a student’s point of view what St. Ambrose was all about. “Young people rise to the bar that you set for them,” he said. “If you expect them to behave like adults, they will become adults. If you demand that they become saints, then by the grace of God they will become saints.”
Teeter emphasized how important daily Mass and regular opportunities for Confession and spiritual direction are in forming saints. Through the generosity of Msgr. Donn Heiar and the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish community, which allows the Academy to use its religious education wing, St. Ambrose students have daily access to the sacraments.
Teeter attended public schools before coming to St. Ambrose, and, after just a short time, the gift of being fed daily by the Eucharist has become of primary importance to him. Teeter is discerning a vocation to the priesthood; he plans to attend the seminary when he graduates, the second St. Ambrose graduate to do so.
Back to the basics
Also attending was local radio talk-show host Vicki McKenna, who is attracted to St. Ambrose Academy because of its commitment to classical education.
“We need to get back to the basics, and this is why I love St. Ambrose. I love it as an idea of education. It inspires children to want to know more based on what they have already learned. That is amazing.”
McKenna cited troublesome statistics from an Intercollegiate Studies Institute study of the current state of education in America, and she declared: “St. Ambrose is different. It focuses on excellence and exceptionalism. It pushes children beyond the boundaries . . . it is a school about moving forward.”
Principal Scott Schmiesing spoke briefly on how St. Ambrose is growing; there are currently 48 students in grades six through 12, with new families contacting the school regularly to visit and have their children “shadow” to experience a day at St. Ambrose.
Schmiesing said the increasing number of students has brought new extracurricular opportunities to the growing student body. This year, St. Ambrose has formed teams for girls and boys cross-country and basketball and added a fledgling band program.
Gratitude for donors
Coordinator of Development Bridget Yallaly was gratified by the number of benefactors whose presence and generosity contributed to the success of the event. “We owe so much to those who have supported us faithfully for our first five years and who worked hard to fill tables with new donors tonight,” she said.
Half of the event’s guests were first-time attendees of the St. Ambrose fundraiser, noted Board Secretary David Stiennon. “It gives great hope to us; it’s a great sign of future growth,” he said.
Those who would like to become St. Ambrose supporters may contact the school at 608-827-5863 or
to discuss the many ways they can help make quality Catholic education affordable for all. A number of St. Ambrose students receive financial aid and this aid comes directly from donors, Stiennon said.
Bishop Morlino again thanked everyone for coming and pledged his own personal support for the school. “I want to encourage you to do whatever you can for St. Ambrose so that the symbolism of the Christmas tree will continue to be realized at St. Ambrose and in our midst.”