"Gift of Empathy" Leads Alum to Diaconate


Recently ordained Deacon John Robbins '05 has experienced deep loss, as a child and as a parent. His father died of cancer when he was nine-years-old, and he and his wife Sadie (Meyer) '05 experienced two miscarriages.

His time at St. Ambrose was foundational to his faith development, but in particular, a homily he heard as a student attending Sunday Mass at Christ the King Chapel had a profound impact on his life and service.

"In the homily, Rev. Charles Adam '82, DMin, said when we experience loss, we also receive the gift of empathy, knowing what it is like to be in that position so we can accompany someone else on that journey," Robbins said.

For most of his teenage years, Robbins was angry at God. "But those words were like the top rungs on a ladder and lifted me out of the dark place I had been in with my dad's death and helped me see things clearly," he said. "And there is a service component with that too, walking with someone else when they experience loss."

It was God planting a seed, he said.

He and Sadie married in May 2008 and started a family. Their first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, as did their third. "Having been through my dad's death, I didn't realize how it had shaped me to handle different situations like this. I had come to learn we can't blame our human fragility on God," he said.

"Sadie was in a place I could very much recognize, questioning how this could happen and why God would allow it," Robbins said. "All we could do is support each other as best we could, to listen and share our feelings."

Their second child was born in January 2014, and months later, Robbins felt God calling him. It wasn't the first time; he'd felt a call to the deaconate since early in his marriage.

At work one day – Robbins is the Communications Director for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa – a cleric encouraged him to explore the calling. He and Sadie began Permanent Diaconate formation classes in January 2015 and he was ordained on July 20 at the Cathedral of St. Raphael in Dubuque.

"As we journeyed through formation, Sadie was very supportive of my call, and we found we grew more as a couple with Jesus," he said. "She is now on fire for her faith and frequently helps other women experiencing similar losses."

While in deaconate formation, they celebrated the birth of their third child in April 2016.

"My time at St. Ambrose were important early stages," he said. "Meeting Sadie and being part of a community that fostered

my growth and faith development seems to have been part of God's plan. To see where we are now and to marvel at where God has taken us, we are left in awe."

robbins family


At SAU, hard work = recognition. Here is a list of full-time students who were named to the St. Ambrose University Dean's List for the Fall 2023 term. These students earned a GPA of 3.5 or higher (on a 4.0 scale).

Read More About Fall 2023...

Celtic cross on St. Ambrose Campus

This is a turbulent time for higher education, both nationally and here in Iowa. Students, families and state leaders have questions about value, relevance and trust

Read More About Catholic Higher...


Legacy families are not new to St. Ambrose University. There are many family trees whose branches are laden with proud Ambrosians, but the limbs of the Henkhaus and Gannaway trees are especially ripe with St. Ambrose history.

Read More About A Thousand...

So, what's next?

Are you ready to take the next step? Click on the visit button below to learn more about our virtual and in-person visit options.