SAU's History Speaks to President-Elect Amy Novak


Scene Magazine | Spring 2021

Nothing less than St. Ambrose history told the university's next president she was a good fit for the institution. As importantly, it told her St. Ambrose was a great fit for her.

Amy Novak, EdD, officially will succeed Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD, on August 7, 2021, with an inaugural celebration to follow on October 1. She comes to St. Ambrose after serving the past eight years as president of Dakota Wesleyan University, a private faith-based institution of 948 students located in Mitchell, South Dakota.

Novak is a native South Dakotan who graduated from high school in Mitchell. She also worked in various capacities at DWU since 2003, so leaving the Great Plains and the home where she and her husband, Ken, largely had raised their eight children was no easy decision.

amy novak

A Good Fit for SAU

A devout Catholic, Novak was moved by the quiet beauty of the Chapel, and impressed by the unique depictions of the Stations of the Cross in the etchings of the late Rev. Edward Catich '34.

Novak had completed her round of virtual interview sessions as a finalist in the national search for SAU's 14th president, but hadn't yet been offered the job, when she requested a surreptitious visit to campus in late January. Among the last stops on her unofficial tour was Christ the King Chapel.

A devout Catholic, Novak was moved by the quiet beauty of the Chapel, and impressed by the unique depictions of the Stations of the Cross in the etchings of the late Rev. Edward Catich '34, the legendary artist, famed calligrapher and iconic St. Ambrose art professor.

Novak was most impressed, however, by a Fr. Catich painting hanging in a prominent place in the rear of the Chapel depicting a White Madonna holding a Black baby Jesus. She couldn't know the painting had been displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1950, nor that the Vatican expressed extreme displeasure with it at that time.

As a mother of two adopted Black children, however, what Novak emphatically knew in that moment was she had found in St. Ambrose a community she would be proud to lead.

"That piece of art just spoke to me in a very profound way," she said. "After a really tough summer, struggling with two Black children in rural America, there was this incredible sense of peace that just came over me. I realized here's a place, this university, that A) had the courage to have a leader who painted this in the late 1940s, and B) is still embracing that role today, to be a place where diversity and inclusivity and an image of a universal Christ can permeate the experience we create."

Only days later, Novak was offered the St. Ambrose presidency. She readily accepted, and now is eager to begin enriching lives at a university whose commitment to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and to social justice is reflected on its chapel walls and, most importantly, in the hearts, minds and actions of its students, alumni, faculty and staff.

"That's why I do this," Novak said about the transformative impact of a St. Ambrose education. "It's meeting people where they are. It's a deep commitment to looking through someone else's eyes, and sensing how can we help that person develop into the best version of themselves."

–Craig DeVrieze '16 MOL


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