Farewell Sister Ambrose

It might have been destiny that brought Sister Ambrose Cruise to the Diocese of St. Augustine. She entered the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland in 1959 on Sept. 8 – the day the City of St. Augustine was founded in 1565.

Sister Ambrose Cruise, RSM (Photo credit: St. Augustine Catholic/Brandon Duncan)

She didn’t arrive in the diocese until 1989, after teaching school in Costa Mesa, Calif., for 26 years.

After receiving her master’s degree in St. Louis, Sister Ambrose was assigned to Jacksonville’s San José Parish School, where she taught third grade for 12 years. She then became director of religious education for the parish for another 13 years.

After her “retirement” in 2014, she coordinated the RCIA program. But now she has really retired. She returned to Ireland in July with no plans to continue in active ministry.

That leaves two Mercy Sisters at San Jose – Sister Anne Campbell and Sister Eithna Lowther, who will be returning to Ireland in a couple of years. A third Mercy, Sister Enda Egan, is at St. Anastasia in St. Augustine.

No Mercy Sisters will be coming to replace them.

The Sisters of Mercy were founded in Ireland in 1832 by Catherine McAuley to serve the needy, the sick and uneducated. They have been a presence in the diocese since 1859 when Bishop Augustin Verot recruited Mercy Sisters from Providence, R.I. They served in St. Augustine for about a decade.

In 1862, Verot personally evacuated the seven sisters during the Civil War. They were mistaken for escaping slaves by Union soldiers and fired upon by Confederates in Jacksonville but finally reached relative safety in Columbus, Ga. Their journey by wagon and train took three weeks. They spent the war living in abject poverty, teaching children and ministering to the sick and wounded.

After the war, they returned to their teaching duties in St. Augustine until the late 1860s when they turned over their school to the newly arrived Sisters of St. Joseph from France.

Mercy Sisters Anne Campbell and Eithna Lowther present Sister Ambrose with an oversized “Thank you” card in appreciation for her service to the community and in the Diocese of St. Augustine (Photo credit: St. Augustine Catholic/Brandon Duncan)

The Irish Sisters of Mercy arrived in 1959 when a foundation was established in Costa Mesa, Calif.

“It was a big thing back then,” Sister Ambrose said. “There was a big emphasis on Catholic education and a lot of parishes were in need of sisters. Pastors went to Ireland in search of sisters. Several communities came over.”

Sister Ambrose said when she entered the order at age 19 she never dreamed she would spend the next 55 years in the United States. She just wanted to be like the sisters who were her teachers.

“That’s where I got my vocation,” she said.

Sister Ambrose said she hoped she made a difference in people’s lives.

“The people are wonderful, the way they help out in parishes, religious education, RCIA and the different ministries,” she said. ” The lay people are so involved that’s what has impressed me the most.”