Campus Chaplain Rev. Ross Epping: Joy, Belonging and Radical Giving


AmbroseZine | August 2021

Attending St. Ambrose University as an undergraduate was a choice Rev. Ross Epping '11 made based on friendships, scholarships, and great residence halls.

Attending Mass on campus wasn't top of the list until Sister Rita Cameron, then the Director of Music Ministry and Spirituality, learned he could sing. She asked him to cantor Mass. During his first semester he dodged her request, but then he gave in. "And when I came, the songs rang with familiarity and reminded me of something I had loved as a child," Fr. Ross said.

As he became more involved in Campus Ministry, he got to know Sr. Rita and the Rev. Chuck Adams '82, who was the campus chaplain at the time. "They were interesting, and not only that, but they were also interested in my life and the life of my friends. They wanted us to be around, to be involved, and to share our lives with them as the ministry staff, here in this Church. It became my home, the place I found solace and peace. I credit most of my decision to enter the priesthood to Fr. Chuck and Sr. Rita.

"It was a joy-filled four years. I loved my time here. Everything about it was so good," he said.

Fr. Ross returned to St. Ambrose University on July 1, a little more than 10 years after he graduated with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Philosophy and Theology. As the new Campus Chaplain, he is replacing Rev. Thom Hennen '00, who assumed a new diocesan assignment this summer after four years of service to his alma mater.

Now Fr. Ross will help St. Ambrose students discover and experience their own joy through faith formation – in Campus Ministry programs, service activities and retreats, and through conversation and supportive guidance.

As much as joy, Fr. Ross wants every student to experience belonging. "I think it is what we all want; we want to be known and we want a place where we not only belong but can also belong being ourselves. That is what is most important for me to convey to this campus," he said.

As an SAU student, Fr. Ross discovered presence and place within the Christ the King Chapel, classrooms, friendships, and while serving as a resident assistant and participating in Campus Ministry. "I remember coming back from my first Antioch retreat and experiencing such profound happiness and peace because I had spent two days with people who I didn't know going in, and left being such good friends with, people I am friends with yet today," he said.

Rev. Ross Epping '11

Campus Chaplain

"I think it is what we all want; we want to be known and we want a place where we not only belong but also belong being ourselves. That is what is most important for me to convey to this campus."

Fr. Ross entered the seminary following graduation and was ordained into the priesthood in the Diocese of Davenport in 2016. "I remember sitting in this office eight years ago with Fr. Chuck and him saying, 'Ross, I'd love for you to be at SAU but we also want to come to reality. SAU is just one place in a diocese of many parishes,'" he recalled.

"I'd be lying if I said SAU wasn't the reason I joined the Diocese, because I wanted to be here. But as I went through formation and seminary, the prospect of being a parish priest was just as great," he said.

Fr. Ross was parochial vicar at St. John Vianney Church in Bettendorf from 2016-2018, then pastor for two-and-a-half years at St. Mary's Church in Grinnell, Iowa. In his last 12 months at St. Mary's, he also served as the Director of Vocations, a role he will retain in the diocese.

He also remained connected and committed to St. Ambrose and its students' faith formation, helping Fr. Thom and Campus Ministry with Busy Student retreats and offering Mass on Wednesday nights. When the Most Rev. Thomas Zinkula, Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport, asked him this spring to become campus chaplain, Fr. Ross didn't pause. "It was an immediate yes," he said.

"And when I came to sing, the songs rang with familiarity and reminded me of something I had loved as a child."

Rev. Ross Epping '11

As the academic year gets underway, Fr. Ross looks forward to the time he'll spend with students as they grow in faith, and through service and retreats. In the time students spend with him, they will learn of his deep connection to faith, family, friends, and mentors. They will discover he co-hosted a podcast about the theology of Star Wars and has to keep a tight leash on Tut, a 60-pound Pitbull-Boxer mix he rescued two years ago. And if they ask about the lithograph hanging on the wall behind his desk, they will discover its placement was fully intentional.

The print is of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. In it, she is disheveled, yet composed, and her face is aged and lined; carved by so many years of service. Holding a coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in another, she stares into the eyes of the viewer.

"Yes, she is here, always watching and challenging me," said Fr. Ross. "In this image by artist Ben Wildflower, she depicts a radical image of what it means to be Jesus Christ, a person of service and gratitude, and unafraid to be dirty and in the mess of life. She is my patron saint and stands as the challenge in my life. This idea that we ought to be uncomfortable, that we have got to be always at the service of the other is even more important now and ought to be in our face on a regular basis," he said.

"Radical service, this radical giving of myself, is something the world needs to be challenged on but is also something I see of great value in this generation coming up. They care about other people. They care about who they are and what they say and where they come from. They also are a good challenge to me," he said.

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