History and Background

Saint Ambrose Catholic Church was established over 100 years ago, and continues to be a growing and thriving community. Throughout our website you will find information about programs, outreach, prayer, leadership, our 100+ year of history, and so much more.

Our Catholic identity and traditions are our foundations and we boldly embrace and share with everyone the teachings of the Catholic Church. We look ahead with excitement as we continue to strengthen and grow what Bishop Pates, along with so many others, began over twenty years ago. While we must have reverence for the past, conscious that we are building upon a foundation that others have generously laid, we must be discerning about not letting nostalgia be the measure. For that would make what we have experienced be more important than what God is doing here and now. Growth that is organic and fruitful should cherish and learn from what has been, honoring the past best by contributing with creativity to the challenges and opportunities of the present.


A Blend of the Past and Present

In 1915, Saint Ambrose Catholic Church was established in a red brick church on lower Payne Avenue on St. Paul’s East side. The parish was in Railroad Island, a neighborhood consisting of many Italian immigrant families. In 1954, Father Thomas Pingatore was selected as pastor of Saint Ambrose, overseeing a vibrant parish rich in Italian traditions and dedicated to maintaining strong families. The parish moved to a new stone church on the corner of Burr Street and Minnehaha Avenue in 1957 and thrived until the 1980’s, when a large number of parishioners and children of parishioners moved from the area, many to St. Paul’s eastern suburbs.

Meanwhile, Woodbury, on the southeastern side of St. Paul, was experiencing phenomenal growth. The need for a new parish in the St. Croix valley was imminent. There was also a strong desire for a Catholic school, as evidenced by a 1998 survey finding that 400 to 600 students would eagerly attend such a school in Woodbury – Minnesota’s fastest growing city.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis responded to the needs of the community, incorporating a suggestion from Father Pingatore: That Saint Ambrose Catholic Church lend its name and assets to a new Catholic church, school and Early Childhood Education Center, founded to serve the greater Woodbury area. Monsignor Richard E. Pates was named as pastor, and the new Saint Ambrose of Woodbury Catholic Community was established in March 1998, with Father Pingatore serving as pastor emeritus. Completed in fall 2000, Saint Ambrose of Woodbury is the first church in the archdiocese to open with a school in more than 30 years, resuming the tradition of linking catholic education with a parish. In December 2000, Pope John Paul II honored Monsignor Pates by naming him Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

St. Ambrose of Milan

Feast Day: December 7
Patron saint of learning, school children, students, beekeepers, candle makers, bees and domestic animals

St. Ambrose was born around the year 340 in Trier, Germany. In the year 374, at the age of 34, he was baptized and consecrated as bishop of Milan, Italy, giving away his wealth to the church and to the poor as an example to others. Though he came from a career in politics as a popular governor of the area, he took very seriously his election to the role of bishop. St. Ambrose studied scripture and religious writers and lived very simply, devoting himself to the service of his flock.

St. Ambrose was also a teacher, well-known Bible student and writer of liturgical hymns. His designation as patron saint of learning, school children and students is especially appropriate with our parish community’s commitment to education. He was also known as the “Honey-Tongued Doctor” because of his speaking and preaching ability – “smooth as honey” – which led to his designation as patron saint of beekeepers and bees.

St. Ambrose was also instrumental in converting his friend St. Augustine to Catholicism. Stained-glass windows of the two saints from the original St. Ambrose Church in St. Paul are now here above the Baptismal Font and to the rear of the Sanctuary.

A Site Rich in History

Saint Ambrose Catholic Church sits on a beautiful 80-acre parcel of land on the southeast corner of Woodbury Drive and Bailey Road. The land has a rich agricultural heritage, beginning with its first owner, Scotland native Alexander McHattie, who purchased the parcel and 80 surrounding acres from the U.S. government. McHattie and his son, George grew wheat on the land until 1914 when it was sold to George and Catherine Raths. They raised dairy cattle on the land, as did Harry and Alice Leonard, who purchased the land in 1941.

In 1944, a hardworking Cottage Grove dairy farmer and his wife, David and Katherine Oehlke, bought the land. Their son, Glen and his wife, Inez married in 1947 and moved to the farm to help raise dairy cattle. In 1999, Saint Ambrose of Woodbury purchased 80 acres of the Oehlkes’ farmland for its parish campus. The parish community will be forever mindful that the Oehlkes made it possible for Saint Ambrose of Woodbury to serve as a beacon of our community’s witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to one another, as well as to the greater community of Woodbury.

The Commons

The church’s two entrances lead to Oehlke Commons, named for Glen and Inez Oehlke, the neighboring family who farmed the land for decades. In the center of this large room is the offering table at which the Mass offerings, bread and wine are assembled.

The Saint Ambrose parish values of Worship, Education and Outreach, the main components of our mission statement, are featured prominently with scriptures chosen by parishioners on a wall in the Commons. Worship is represented by a quote from Matthew 18:20, which reads, “Whenever two or more of you come together in my name, I am there with you.” Expressing the parish community’s commitment to Education is the quote, “Instruct children in the way they should go, and when they grown old they will not leave it,” from Proverbs 22:6. And the value of Outreach is expressed in a quote from Matthew 25:40, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do unto me.”

The Catafalque

On the wall opposite the sanctuary doors is the Catafalque – a place of honor for deceased parishioners. The Catafalque is on the central axis of the church, on which the Baptismal Font, the Altar and the Sculpture of the Dying and Rising Christ are also aligned. On the wall behind the Catafalque is a quote from Isaiah 43:1, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have summoned you by name; your are mine….

The Pingatore Room

Near the west entry of the Commons is the Pingatore Room, named for Father Thomas Pingatore, who served the original St. Ambrose parish in St. Paul for more than 50 years. The room is reserved as a quiet space for meetings and conferences, the preparation of bridal parties and a gathering place for the bereaved before funerals.

The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary is designed as an octagon, symbolizing redemption, for the resurrection is regarded as the concluding, triumphant, eighth day of creation. Designed to seat 1,500 people, with no individual more than 57 feet from the Altar, the Sanctuary promotes a feeling of participation. The vaulted ceiling of the Sanctuary, covered with special acoustical fabric, is a bright blue to symbolize the heavens, and the lower ceiling is a shade of dark crimson.

The Sanctuary design is based on two axes. The central axis follows the path of life and begins in the Commons with the Catafalque, aligning with the Baptismal Font, processional aisle and Altar, and culminating with the Sculpture of the Dying and Rising Christ backed by the stained-glass Rose Window of the Holy Spirit. A secondary axis crosses the central axis at the Altar, anchored at one end by the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and opposite by the Mary Chapel.

The Sanctuary Doors

The stained-glass Sanctuary Doors represent fire and water – yellow and blue. The central column of yellow fire is an Old Testament guide that moves us to the Lord and his truth, and the blue waters of the New Testament recall baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The Baptismal Font

Placed at the entry of the Sanctuary, the Baptismal Font is a reminder that baptism stands at the beginning of our new life in Christ. The font is hewn from Canadian granite and, like the church building has eight sides. A portion of the font’s stone is unfinished, representing the nature of man as work in progress through the sacraments. Blessed water flows from this rock. The font calls to mind God’s gift to Moses in the Old Testament of water from Living rock. Parishioners use this water to bless themselves upon entering and leaving the church, recalling their own baptism.

The Reconciliation Room

West of the Baptismal Font, at the beginning of the Ambulatory, is the Reconciliation room, in which penitents are reconciled to God by confessing their sins to Him. The room is aligned with the Baptismal Font, since Reconciliation restores oneself to the life of baptism. The blue glass on the door once again call to mind the soothing effect of water and give a placid feeling to the room. The handle on the door is a rose, the beauty of which is never far from the thorn, reflecting the duality of our human nature and St. Ambrose’s legend that the rose grew, without thorns, in the Garden of Eden. After the fall of Adam and Eve, the rose became an earthly plant and the thorns appeared as a reminder of man’s sins and fall from grace.

The Altar and the Ambo

The Altar is made from oak with bands of the granite used elsewhere in the church. It has eight sides to convey the importance of the resurrection symbolism prevalent throughout the church, and that we gather around the Altar to celebrate the Pascal Mystery. The Ambo (pulpit) matches the design of the Altar, and its size emphasizes the importance of the Holy Word. The central position of the Altar – midpoint in the entire church – in relation to the Ambo, behind and off to one side of the Altar, stresses the preeminence of the Eucharistic celebration and stands as the central symbol of the worshipping community.

The Heritage Windows

Above the central axis of the Sanctuary, high on the ceiling, are 24 stained-glass windows. The wing-like elements represent celestial beings, reminiscent of the protective angels that adorn European cathedrals and of the Communion of Saints of our beloved who have gone before us and now share in the heavenly host of the eternal liturgy. The broken circles remind us that angels and saints, like us, are imperfect beings. Each window has a single star symbolizing the infinity of space. The U-shaped diamond frame is a gesture of prayer -praise and adoration – “reaching up” to God. These windows are designed to produce light – play downward toward the congregation when the sun is high.

The Trinity

The Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is represented together by the Hebrew letters on the ceiling, the statue of Christ and the stained-glass Rose window.

The Rose Window

This stained-glass masterpiece represents the Holy Spirit, in this instance in the upper room at Pentecost as told in Acts 2:1-4. In the upper portion are four gusts of wind – the energy of the Spirit – that fill the earth from four directions. Circles with glowing centers denote the disciples who, having received the Spirit, are called to penetrate the surrounding world with this energy, the divine life. The Rose Window, as well as all of the commissioned stained glass in the church, was designed and produced by Michael F. Pilla of St. Paul.

The Sculpture of the Dying and the Rising Christ

This seven-foot bronze sculpture, titles “That We May Live,” represents the Paschal Mystery, the central truth of our Christian faith: the redemptive power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The patron of our parish, St. Ambrose, was a tireless defender of the divinity of Christ; this dramatic work of art also reminds us of the unique reality of His dying and rising as confirmation of His divinity. The base of the sculpture is in part rough granite, calling to mind Golgotha, and this is where the processional cross is placed during liturgy. This rugged granite ties the promise of Christ’s redemption to the promise of baptism as seen in the rough granite of the font. The Sculpture of the Dying and Rising Christ was designed and executed by Robert Nicpon of St. Paul.

Recalling the Father

Completing the artistic representation of the Trinity is the ancient Revelation of the Father to Moses on Mount Sinai, meaning “I am” in Hebrew, represented in gold letters on the ceiling.

The Choir

Directly underneath the Rose Window is the Choir, seating more than 50 vocalists and musicians. The choir was designed to blend into the community of worshipers, with its location primarily participatory and secondarily performing.

The Mary Chapel

The Mary Chapel is on the secondary axis to the left of the Altar in the Ambulatory. The chapel’s transom windows recall the celestial beings of the Clerestory Windows, a symbol that the Eucharist as a sacrament brings the supernatural to our human level. Inside the chapel is a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “Shine through me that every soul I come in contact with may feel thy presence.”

The Saint Francis of Assisi Perpetual Eucharistic Chapel

The Holy Presence of the Eucharistic is open 24 hours a day. If you would like to spend time in the presence of the Holy Eucharistic, please go to weadorehim.com and sign up for a holy hour of prayer.

The chapel’s transom windows recall the celestial beings of the Clerestory Windows, a symbol that the Eucharist as a sacrament brings the supernatural to our human level. The handles on the chapel doors are fashioned in the shape of grapes and wheat, from which the Eucharist is consecrated.

The Tabernacle, conceived by Liturgical Consultant Carol Frenning and executed by Henry Linder and Michael F. Pilla, is a stylized model of the Basilica of the Holy Apostles of Milan, the church dedicated by St. Ambrose, our parish’s namesake.

Faith Formation registration for 2024-2025 is open! We ask all families to register by Monday, August 19. A $30 late fee will be added beginning Tuesday, August 20.Click here to register your family
Scroll to Top