AmbroseZine | March 2021
"Don't worry about my shoes," Rev. Chuck Adam '82 shared with Rev. Thom Hennen '00 when the latter accepted the formidable challenge of replacing the former as Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry at St. Ambrose in 2017. "Fill your own shoes."
That was sound advice that Fr. Thom will share himself with Rev. Ross Epping '11 as both accept new Diocesan assignments in mid-summer.
Fr. Thom will become pastor at nearby Sacred Heart Cathedral effective July 1, ending four years of service to his alma mater. That's not quite the 21 years that Fr. Adam spent in the role, but both Fr. Thom and the campus community are enhanced by his tenure here.
"I'm grateful I had at least four years," he said of re-assignments issued at Diocesan discretion. "I got to see a whole class through. It's been an eventful four years, especially with the pandemic. But it's been a great experience.
"The daily interactions with the students are the thing I will look back on with the greatest fondness and the thing I will miss the most."
Through those simple interactions and bigger experiences such as Antioch Retreats and Spring Service Trips, Fr. Thom said St. Ambrose students showed him a faithfulness to the Church and a commitment to social justice that makes him optimistic about the future.
"The students I am interacting with on a regular basis are very faithful and have a deep love for the Church," he said. "They still wonder about things. They still question, but they are willing to be involved and put themselves out there.
"There is a passion in them that makes me hopeful -for the future of the Church, our country, this university and all the places they are going in their professional lives. With what they take from here, they will, without exaggeration, change the world."
All of which leaves Fr. Thom pleased that he didn't change his shoes.
"What Fr. Chuck told me with 'fill your own shoes' was I didn't have to be Fr. Chuck 2.0," he said. "I had to be the best version of Fr. Thom that I could be and bring my own particular gifts, interests, and quirks. I was successful to the extent that I was able to do that. So my advice to Fr. Ross is just that – be the best version of Fr. Ross Epping."
Fr. Thom is particularly proud of the growth of the Peer Minister program over the past four years and he is happy he and his staff of two were able to overcome budgetary challenges and staff reductions without giving students less than they deserved.
This year, Tammy Norcross-Reitzler filled the role of Director of Campus Ministry as Fr. Thom's work as vicar general for the Diocese of Davenport expanded.
Although he didn't know exactly when his assignments might change, Fr. Thom said Fr. Ross was the first priest he thought of when he considered who could best replace him.
"Fr. Ross was at the top of the list of those who made the most sense," Fr. Thom said. "He is a St. Ambrose alum and he knows this place well. He was very involved in Campus Ministry and he loves this place. He will do well here."