Celebrating Catholic education at St. Ambrose Academy Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kim Donohoe, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

st ambrose
Entertaining the guests are St. Ambrose students representing the four historical cycles comprising the school’s classical curriculum, from left: Catherine Carey, Class of 2019, Ancient Greece/Rome; Maria Marsland, Class of 2018, Medieval/Renaissance Europe; Danny Kwas, Class of 2019, America/Government; and Natalie Davies, Class of 2018, Enlightenment/The Modern World. (Photo by Mary Donohoe)

MADISON -- At the 11th annual St. Ambrose Academy Benefit Dinner Gala, the evening’s program, entitled “Right Here, Right Now: Find Greatness,” was based on St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, emphasizing the immediacy of the benefits of Catholic, classical education in the Diocese of Madison.

Approximately 450 guests attended the gala, which took place at the Alliant Energy Center on Saturday, Dec. 9. It is tradition that the evening honors Bishop Robert C. Morlino as a special guest, and he happily celebrated with his friends from St. Ambrose Academy and across the diocese. The school was founded in 2003, the same year that Bishop Morlino came to Madison.

Emphasis on school’s alumni

The evening featured a celebration of students past, present, and future, with a special emphasis on the school’s alumni -- now a growing group as St. Ambrose is in its 15th year. (These presentations are well worth a watch on the AmbroseAcademy YouTube channel.)

One of the evening’s highlights was the “Alumni Selfie” video -- a compilation of video clips from graduates showing their post-secondary pursuits (also on the YouTube channel).

With their classical training and grounding in Catholic truth, alumni are succeeding in diverse settings, from graduate studies in organic chemistry, law, and physics, to serving in the military and public safety, to following vocations to the priesthood, to studying business, costume design and technology, mining engineering, political science, medicine, and many other exciting pursuits.

“I’m especially grateful for the tools that I was given at St. Ambrose Academy that have helped me to continue my education, especially the ability to manage my time well and to digest difficult texts in a short amount of time,” said Veronica Arntz (2012), who is pursuing her Master’s degree in Theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver following completion of her undergraduate degree at Wyoming Catholic College.

“I think it’s incredibly important that students are educated in humanities and leadership so that the next generation of leaders can be human leaders -- not just technological leaders -- and advance the world completely as a humane society and, hopefully, a Christian society,” said Michael Mills (2015), a junior at the University of Kansas studying organ performance and choral conducting.

Current, future Ambrosians

Current and future “Ambrosians” also stepped up to the podium, including senior Sam Galvin, seventh grader Isaac Carrano, and fifth grader Peter Karlen, who will enter St. Ambrose next year. Each shared his enthusiasm for the opportunities available at St. Ambrose Academy.

“I love my school . . . because every single day the people here push you to pursue excellence,” Isaac said.

Sam shared that over his seven years at St. Ambrose, he has learned perseverance and the drive to never settle for less than greatness.

Peter said that “at St. Ambrose, I know that I will become a better person and student, which I know will lead me closer to heaven.”

A St. Ambrose education

Enrollment at St. Ambrose reached 100 for the first time this fall, and the waiting list of future students who plan to enter the school in sixth or ninth grade continues to grow.

In addition to its core curriculum of classic literature and western civilization, each year the school augments its extracurricular opportunities and elective courses, with business math and advanced chemistry added this year for upperclassmen.

All course work and student life are firmly rooted in the truths of the Catholic faith. Students attend Mass regularly and have the opportunity for frequent Confession and Eucharistic Adoration at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, which has hosted St. Ambrose in its religious education wing since 2004.

“According to NAPCIS, our accrediting organization, 40 percent of small, independent schools such as St. Ambrose close within four years of their founding,”

shared Dr. Constance Nielsen, the school’s director of classical education and the emcee for the evening.

“What is it about St. Ambrose, that we are celebrating our 15th year? The answer is all of you sitting in this room. Without the incredible support of our benefactors from all around the diocese, we would not have been able to keep growing and achieving greatness for the past decade and a half.”

St. Ambrose advantages

After three years on the St. Ambrose leadership team and as a school parent, Development Director Joseph Draves shared his enthusiasm for the advantages St. Ambrose offers, “What are our kids missing out on by pursuing a rigorous faith education in a small school? I still haven’t found it!

“These kids graduate top in the state year after year and go on to exciting colleges and careers of their choosing. They don’t lack opportunity to learn, develop wholesome friendships, and pursue greatness here and beyond this ‘small’ school! And they don’t forget the One who makes it all possible.”

He continued, citing the sober reality that for every one young person who joins the Church today, six leave, “Our students face all the same weaknesses and temptations that most teenagers encounter.

“But do you know what they have that many other students don’t? They have loving teachers whose words and gestures reflect Christ. They have an integrated religious education curriculum that permeates their humanities and their STEM coursework. They have regular access to the prayers and sacraments of life -- which all nourish, purify, and ‘supernaturalize’ their thinking, desires, and actions.

“They become the safe harbor and guardians of smart philosophy and moral order, and it’s a beautiful and urgent fruit in our day. To receive and live Christ’s direction and love is greatness!”

The evening concluded with another annual tradition: All in attendance joined in song for a student-led chorus of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Next year’s event

Guests were encouraged to mark their calendars for next year’s event, scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, which promises to be another festive, inspiring celebration of Catholic, classical education.

For more information. contact St. Ambrose Academy at 608- 827-5863 or go to

Kim Donohoe is associate development director at St. Ambrose Academy in Madison.

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