DEERFIELD BEACH | People like St. Ambrose seem to
be born leaders. He was chosen bishop by acclaim. He defended the faith against
heresy. He led a public protest to save a church for Christian use. He even
forced an emperor to repent in public.
Photographer: JIM DAVIS | FC
A crucifixion window casts a multicolored shadow at St. Ambrose Church. The window is part of the church's Pietá Chapel, for private devotions.
All this by a man who didn’t even study for the
Ambrose, the namesake of a parish in Deerfield Beach, served as
bishop of Milan in the fourth century. Serving as both a churchman and
statesman, he was renowned for his sermons, scholarship, and for taking action
Born around 339 in what is now Germany, Ambrose
grew up in Rome under the care of his widowed mother and his older sister, a
nun. He studied law, literature and rhetoric, then was appointed as a governor
residing in Milan.
But his civil service was cut short in 374 during a
contested election for the next bishop of Milan. Abruptly, a crowd demanded
Ambrose for the bishop's chair. This even though he hadn't even been baptized,
let alone trained clerically. He literally fled and hid, but later gave in —
baptized, ordained and consecrated within eight days.
Ambrose's first act was divestment: his money to
the poor, his land to the Church. He threw himself into study of the Bible and
the Church Fathers, as well as Greek and Latin classics. He used Eastern
melodies in his hymns. And he developed allegorical teachings about the Bible,
especially the Old Testament.
He is honored as one of the four original Doctors
of the Church — along with saints Augustine, Jerome and Gregory the Great — as
among the greatest teachers of the faith.
Photographer: JIM DAVIS | FC
Statue of St. Ambrose stands in front of his namesake church in Deerfield Beach. A bas-relief of the saint can be seen on the church as well.
Somehow, he managed to maintain an open-door
policy, counseling parishioners and government officials alike. His Sunday
sermons were so compelling that listeners took notes, which still exist. He
even mentored St. Augustine, who said Ambrose's sermons persuaded him to be
His talents often returned him to the public
square, especially in opposing the then-popular Arian heresy. When Arians tried
to seize a basilica for public worship, Ambrose and his congregation barricaded
themselves inside until the effort was rescinded.
So great was his influence that when Theodosius,
emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, massacred 7,000 during a rebellion,
Ambrose ordered him excommunicated. Theodosius had to do public penance — weeping
in church without his royal robes — before being reinstated.
Despite the run-in, the two grew close in later
years. On the emperor's death, Ambrose said he loved and prayed for him. And
Theodosius had famously said, "I know no bishop worthy of the name except
He was so loved that on April 5, 397, the day after
he died, five bishops found it hard to serve the many who asked for baptism.
The feast of Ambrose falls on Dec. 7, the day in 374 when he became bishop of
In Deerfield Beach, the story of the church that
bears his name is a story of growth. Founded in 1962, the church celebrated its
first Mass at a junior high school auditorium. The congregation soon grew to
450, then renovated two storefronts for worship.
Crowds still swelled, and church and school
buildings were built and dedicated a mere two years after the church's birth. A
second school building and a covered walkway were added in 1967.
The real estate was needed for the parish's many
activities. They include a food pantry for the needy, a St. Vincent De Paul
Society, and outreaches to the elderly, disabled and bereaved.
Photographer: JIM DAVIS | FC
Statues of Mary, St. Ambrose and Joseph stand in front of a fountain in front of St. Ambrose Church in Deerfield Beach.
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