St. Ambrose Church

St. Ambrose Church was established as the 31st parish in the Diocese of Rochester on November 12, 1921. It has been eighty years since the new parish was started to serve the needs of a growing population in the Northeast section of Rochester and Irondequoit. Bishop Thomas F. Hickey appointed Father Walter B. McCarthy as the first pastor of the new parish. Corpus Christi Church served the area until the time St. Ambrose Parish was established.

While it is not recorded, it seems that Right Reverend Dennis J. Curran, then pastor of Corpus Christi and Vicar General of the Diocese, was influential in choosing the location for the new parish.

The first parish family worshipped in a wood frame church erected at the corner of Culver Road and Empire Boulevard. According to records, the now-Empire Boulevard was then known as the extension of Clifford Avenue. The property upon which the church was built was purchased from Monika Vondran. Prior to purchase, the land was an apple orchard. The cost of the temporary church was $3,945.00. Bishop Thomas Hickey dedicated the first church on December 11, 1921. Construction of this building must have gone on night and day. Within one month of the incorporation of the parish, the first church building was completed.

Immediately after the construction of the church building, Father McCarthy and parishioners addressed the concern of providing Catholic education for their children. Again, a temporary building was erected so that the parish would begin its parochial school.

In September 1922, St. Ambrose School, conducted by the Sisters of St. Joseph, opened its doors to its first students. According the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Ambrose was at that time one of the most flourishing of city parishes.

Building and buying land continued to be a primary objective of Father McCarthy and his trustees. The original rectory (34 Empire Blvd.) was built in 1922. This was a banner year for construction, since the combination Church and school building was constructed. This building housed eight classrooms, a church that seated six hundred people, and a large hall used for parish activities. The memorabilia in the cornerstone of this building included newspapers (The Rochester Herald, dated, October 1, 1922), a 1922 silver dollar, a coin commemorating the Times Union building, and the original list of pew holders. In 1926, the Annex, which still stands, was constructed. This offered more classroom space and a small hall in the basement for meetings.

From the opening of the school, the Sisters lived at St. Agnes Institute located on East Main Street. Mr. Gilbert Costich provided taxi transportation for the Sisters. During these years, the Sisters endured great hardships. The parish was unable to give any support in the form of a salary for their services. In 1928, the Gilbert Costich home at the corner of Empire and Deerfield was purchased, and the Sisters moved into their home in the parish. It was a stately structure and graced the corner until 1949, when it was moved across the street and situated on Waldo Avenue. During the moving, the twenty-two Sisters lived, slept and ate in the basement of the Annex.

On August 2, 1936, after a long illness, Father McCarthy died. Father Burke served as administrator of the parish until June 1937, when Archbishop Edward J. Mooney appointed Father Frank W. Mason second pastor.

The parish continued to grow and a portable building was used to allow for more classrooms. Father Mason always said that he'd have to put a skyhook in the classrooms, because it was impossible to squeeze one more desk in a classroom. Class sizes in the forties reached into the sixties. This was a challenge for any teacher. However, students at St. Ambrose excelled in academics.

It was during the late 1940's that was necessary to convert the parish hall into a place of worship on Sundays. Nine Masses were celebrated each Sunday during these years to accommodate the parishioners.

From the beginning, parish activities were a part of St. Ambrose Parish. In the early days, the Holy Name Society, Rosary Society and the Sodality were the avenue men, women and youth had of building community in a spiritual and social atmosphere. A yearly event in the 1940's and early 50's, that created great spirit, was the Penny Bazaar. It was held during school hours and everyone left with some small prize. Father Mason was a faithful pastor who cared for his flock with compassion. The imparting of the church's teaching was foremost to his ministry at St. Ambrose. He was a person of strong convictions and deep faith. The celebration of the Eucharist was central to his life and one of his dreams was to have a church that would be large enough to serve his parishioners. In 1957, a fund drive was conducted so that this longtime dream could be a reality. On October 2, 1960, Bishop James E. Kearney dedicated the new St. Ambrose Church. This beautiful edifice that we worship in is the result of the courage and dedication of Father Mason and his parishioners.

Another dream was to remodel the former Church into classrooms. This was shattered on April 29, 1962, when the church-school building was destroyed by fire. Father Mason, aging and in poor health, delegated responsibility for the new drive and construction of the new school to Father Joseph Dailey. During this period, eight classrooms were housed in the annex and eight teachers and four hundred students were bussed each day to St. Rita's, Annunciation, and Corpus Christi, three of the nearby parishes who generously offered help. The following school year of 1962-1963, four hundred students and teachers traveled to Immaculate Conception for classroom facilities.

The present School stands on the same site as the building destroyed by the fire. Construction of the new school began in March 1963 and opened for classes on September 4, 1963. The cornerstone was placed on September 5, 1963.

In recognition of his dedication to his parish, Father Mason, on June 5, 1959 was given the honor of Right Reverend Monsignor by Bishop Kearney. After twenty-six years of faithful service, Monsignor Mason died on March 4, 1964.

In 1964, Monsignor Arthur Ratigan was named Pastor of St. Ambrose Parish. These years called for greater involvement of the laity in parish affairs. In 1965, Monsignor Ratigan, taking the lead in Rochester, appointed a fifteen member School Board to set policy. In a newspaper article, Monsignor stated that it was not "just a window dressing." Following upon the heels of the School Board was the inception of the Parish Council - an elected body of parishioners who were to be visionary in their challenging the growth of the Parish Community. There were also the years of implementing the directives of the Second Vatican Council.

Another first for the parish was the starting of the annual Festival. From its beginning year in 1965, it has been a great success not only in its financial revenue, but equally important, in the spirit it engenders among workers and parishioners.

Monsignor Ratigan resigned on October 6, 1971. Bishop Hogan appointed Father James J. Marvin as Pastor. The beginning of his pastorate ushered in the planning of the 50th Anniversary of the parish. In his letter to the parishioners on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary, he wrote "Let us rededicate ourselves to the goals of the Christian commitment.Let us continue to build our community -- together."

Fr. Marvin would remain pastor of St. Ambrose for 24 years. These 24 years saw many wonderful changes in the St. Ambrose faith community. Many of the new implementations of Vatican II were put into place during these years. The sign of peace was introduced at Mass. People were called forth from the community to serve as Ministers of Communion, Lectors, parish visitors and sacristans. We were one of the first parishes to invite girls to serve at the altar, one of the first to introduce communal penance services to the community.

But perhaps one of the greatest changes that came about under the pastorate of Fr. Marvin was the blossoming of Lay ministers on the staff. In 1971 the staff consisted of Fr. Marvin and three assistant priests. Today in the year 2001 the staff consists of one priest, a parochial vicar, a pastoral associate, a director of faith formation, a religious education administrator, a music director, a youth minister, a business manager, and an office manager. Within this staff we have two ordained priests and one woman religious. The remainder of the staff is lay people called into church ministry.

Of course, this only tells part of the story because what truly makes a parish into a faith community is the people. The people here at St. Ambrose have always been a faith-filled, active group of people. From parish festivals, to "Habitat for Humanity", to serving lunch at St. Martin's Soup Kitchen, St. Ambrose parishioners have always been there, reaching out, pitching in, going above and beyond merely attending Mass on the weekend and our pride shows.

Fr. Marvin's retirement in 1995 proved to be a time of challenge and growth for our community. After 24 years with the same style of leadership any kind of change would be difficult. Bishop Clark appointed Rev. Melvin Walczak to be our new pastor. Fr. Mel, full of enthusiasm and energy, saw a number of areas within our community that needed change. However, many people found it difficult to accept the immediacy with which Fr. Mel implemented new directives. This led to a period of difficulty for people who felt that their Church was changing in ways they were not ready to accept. The struggles he felt both as a priest and as a pastor caused Fr. Mel to announce his resignation from St. Ambrose and the priesthood on Sept. 22, 1996.

Bishop Clark asked Pastoral Associate Nancy Giordano to serve as temporary Pastoral Administrator until a pastor could be assigned. Nancy served in this role from September 22, 1996 until Rev. Michael Schramel became pastor on December 1, 1996. The spirit of our faith community brought us through this transition time and made us stronger as a people of God.

The addition of Fr. Mike to the pastoral staff was welcome, yet vaguely familiar. He had been a deacon here in 1979 and was ordained by Bishop Clark on April 25, 1980 right in our very own church. Now he was back to stay.

Fr. Mike brought enthusiasm, energy and new ideas to our community. A major undertaking, begun before Fr. Mike became pastor, was the renovation of the Church. Serious updating both mechanically and liturgically needed to take place within our worship space.

Discussion of renovation began in 1996. A plan for renovation was proposed in 1998 with scale models and there were many opportunities for feedback. In the spring of 1999, a Renovation Committee was formed, question and answer boards were established and town meetings were held. People were encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas. The Renovation Committee made themselves available at every parish function to answer questions and ally fears. The commitment was made to preserve as much of the original materials from the existing church as possible.

Construction began in late August of 2000. We all moved into Dailey Hall for our weekend liturgies and an amazing thing began to happen - the renovationbecame a parish project. Everyone's interest was peaked. Father Mike began giving weekly tours of the "church in progress."Through it all the excitement grew. The enthusiasm was not only about the newly renewed space, but also about everyone being a part of it.

We returned to the completed worship space on December 7, 2000, the Feast of St. Ambrose. Bishop Matthew H. Clark presided at the Rededication Liturgy on February 18, 2001. It was then that we realized that we had become renewed as a faith community. It is this pride that will live on long after we are gone - pride not in brick and mortar but in ourselves - "living stones….built into a spiritual house." (1 Peter 2:5).