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Sharing Stories About Father Dawson

December 2011

We are grateful to alumni and students who took time to share their stories and memories about Father Dawson. Other than some editing for space, these are the heartfelt words of Ambrosians. Brian K. Jansen
Received my copy of The Ambrosian in yesterday's mail and I was just thinking about Fr. Dawson. At the end of the article it said to share memories of him here so that's what I'm doing.

We all know what a great man he was. Incredible teacher, always there for his students be it with questions about a class or there to help out with situations that life threw our way. The one memory of him that I'm sure everybody who ever took one of his classes has is the enthusiasm/joy with which he would state your name when he called upon you in class to answer a question. I'll use my own name but you know you can still hear him calling your name too, "Brian!" His tone just let you know that he cared so very much. Just by him saying your name, even if you had no idea whatsoever what the answer to the question was, just filled you with warmth and confidence. As crazy as that sounds, I know that my fellow Ambrosians understand what I mean. I don't believe he will ever be missed by any of us whose lives he touched, missed isn't the right word, he made sure of that. Fondly remembered, to the highest power........ that's Fr. Dawson.
Brian K. Jansen

"When I came to St. Ambrose during the Vietnam era I was hungering for meaning in my life. I found it through the teaching and witness of two extraordinary priests: Digger Dawson and Jack Smith. These great mentors taught me the importance of social justice and the need to pursue it nonviolently. I also was inspired by them to become a college professor and, for a time I thought, a priest too. When life carried me in a different direction, Digger presided at the wedding of Marabeth and I in 1975 in the campus chapel. As I pursued a doctorate in philosophy, I devoted my research to the philosophy of peace.....Digger's influence all the way. And I heard of his passing just before going to my final class of the Philosophy of Peace and War, a course I developed through Father Dawson's inspiration many years ago. The dream and commitment to peace live on through all those inspired by this great man over the years. He and Jack were great friends, and now are together again as advocates for peace and justice in the great beyond."

Norm Freund, Class of 1975

Philosophy Professor at Clarke University

As a freshman in the fall of 1970, one of the first and most natural areas of campus involvement for me was music ministry, although at the time we weren't hearing that term being used. Campus chaplain Fr. Bill Dawson warmly encouraged and welcomed all student musical offerings. "Let Me Be a Little Kinder" and "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony" were song staples in the era's folk repertoire, and often found their way into student-planned chapel liturgies at which peace-and-justice-themed homilies lifted the day's scripture onto the platform of everyday life. Our being invited to gather around the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist was linked with being invited to share a family meal with Jesus before going out to serve the world. Since then, I have never felt closer to the Eucharist than I did at those liturgies.

Digger welcomed and loved unconditionally, which was consistent with his life's work on behalf of justice and peace. He literally was the change that he wanted to see in the world (cf. Mohandas Gandhi). I recall walking with Digger through the chapel on our way to dinner on a very cold and snowy winter evening about two years ago. He was moving slowly and having trouble breathing. "It's so cold-think of all the homeless people," he remarked, characteristically putting the focus on others. Alongside his passion for peace was his passion for life, and for celebrating it. "Hello? This is St. Ambrose calling. I hear you have a birthday!" was a message left more than once on my voicemail. We never finished a visit without a strong bear hug, and a "God bless you."
Dr. Chloë Stodt, Class of 1974
Director of Music, Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Lenexa, KS

"Since this is my first year at St. Ambrose, I did not know Fr. Dawson on a personal level. I did, however, get to meet him when a group of us from music ministry went to caroling at the Kohl Home. We went to the table he was eating dinner at and sang Joy to the World for him. I will always remember that look on his face that day. He had a sweet, caring and loving smile on his face that I am sure everyone who knew him has seen before."
Becca Payne, Current Student

"I had the privilege of having Fr. Dawson as my professor for a "Peace and Nonviolence" course. Originally, I was not very excited about taking it. As an accounting major, I took enrolled in it just fulfill a general education requirement-something I had to take. Much to my surprise this turned out to be one of my favorite courses. Digger had this accounting major, typically focused on profit and efficient use of resources, deeply reflecting on social justice and non-violence resistance. His passion for the subject as well as his joyful personality made the class a life changing experience. What a unique gift he had. Father Dawson also presided at my wedding held in the chapel at St. Ambrose. To this day I believe his acceptance and warmness toward my finance, who at the time was not Catholic, was a significant factor in my husband's journey to becoming Catholic. I will miss this man!"

Lisa M. Dutchik (Lombardo), Class of 1989

Assistant Professor of Accounting, Kirkwood Community College

"Of all my memories of Father Dawson I guess the most vivid would have to be my mother's Requiem Mass in October 1987, and then my Nuptial Mass on June 18, 1994. In both cases we brought to him a rather large and very ecumenically diverse family. Father was able to balance the diversity of the family with the solemnity of the events and in both cases, the masses were truly beautiful, and memorable occasions."
Richard M. DCamp, PhD, Class of 1982

Director, Foreign Languages Lab, President, Senate of Academic Staff, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

"I met Fr. Dawson is an interesting way. On a summer day in 2010, I was working at the IT office and received a phone call. On the other end was someone I had met but didn't really know at the time, Fr. Bill "Digger" Dawson. He was having some problems with his computer and so I told him I'd walk over to his apartment in Hayes Hall and take a look at it. We ended up chatting for an hour. Fr. Dawson is one of those people that when he opened his mouth, you just wanted to listen forever because you knew everything he said was full of care and wisdom. From that point forward, I helped Fr. Dawson with various other computer issues and every time he was the most thankful customer one could want. Certainly, his history in pursuing efforts of social justice and peace progress are legendary, and I wish I could have seen more of that first hand. My blessing of getting to know Digger was certainly one of those great little surprises Ambrose provides you with, and I will never forget him and the effect he had on my life as an Ambrosian."

Miles A. Chiotti, Class of 2011

"It is with great sadness that I read about Father Dawson's passing. He was the most genuinely kind man I have ever met. He brought theology and religion out of the text book by teaching us that theology and religion are choices we make daily in the course of our lives. He was a 'sword to cleave the darkness.'"

Guy Pareti, Class of 1991

More stories and memories can be read at SAU's institutional and alumni Facebook pages. Please continue to share Father Dawson stories by emailing Jane Kettering or posting on Facebook.


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