Roman Catholic St. Ambrose University Opens Prayer Space for Muslim Students

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DAVENPORT, Iowa — A private Catholic university in Iowa has opened a prayer room for Muslim students and those of other faiths, stated to be complete with sinks for ritual foot-washing and separate spaces for men and women.

“On Tuesday, May 8, St. Ambrose University dedicated a room that will be available for daily prayer to students of the Islamic faith, as well as students of other religions who prefer to pray somewhere other than Christ the King Chapel,” a post on the St. Ambrose University website outlines.

The space was opened to honor longtime world religions professor Joe DeFrancisco, who died last year. The interfaith memorial ceremony for DeFrancisco last July included not only Roman Catholic priests, but also a rabbi, an imam, an Anglican priest and a Lutheran chaplain.

Student Government Association President Matthew Mahoney said that he approached the Saudi Student Association following DeFrancisco’s death to work out a space for Islamic students in light of comments the professor once made.

“I happened to be in the chapel one evening when Joe was meeting with the Saudi Student Association,” he explained via the university announcement. “Joe was so welcoming to them and brought them a ton of food and then started talking about how they really didn’t have very much space to pray.”

“After Joe passed away, I thought, ‘Why don’t we do something about this?'” Mahoney outlined.

The prayer room has been named in remembrance of DeFrancisco, and was dedicated earlier this month with appearances by St. Ambrose President Joan Lescinski, Imam Saad Baig of the Islamic Center of the Quad Cities, and university chaplain Thomas Hennen.

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“This is a truly appropriate way to honor Joe,” Lescinski said in a statement. “His openness to all members of the Quad Cities faith community was a living example of the Catholic intellectual tradition. Former students still talk about the impact visits to temples and mosques had on them as members of his Comparative Religions class.”

“Being able to say that we’re committed to these Muslim students, and to all students—students of all different faiths—is really outstanding,” Mahoney also told NPR. “It’s uniquely Ambrosian, and it just sort of shows our commitment to all different faiths.”

According to the university website, while St. Ambrose University is stated to possess a “strong Catholic identity in relationship with the Diocese of Davenport,” it also believes in “openness to those of other faith traditions.”

However, writing for the Independent Journal Review (IJR), writer Tre Goins-Phillips opined that the arrangement seemed to be unusual for an entity that serves to ground students in Roman Catholicism.

“While it’s entirely appropriate for a religious institution to advocate for tolerance and just treatment for everyone, regardless of their religion, installing a space specifically for Islamic prayer seems to be a step away from pluralism and toward endorsement,” he said.

Deuteronomy 32:16 states, “They stirred Him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger.”

Isaiah 45:5 also declares, “I am the Lord, and there is none else. There is no God beside Me.”

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