A community waiting to happen. That’s the best way Bishop Richard Pates can describe St. Ambrose Catholic Church and the growth it has experienced since it was founded a little more than 10 years ago.
“There were so many individuals and families that contributed right away, it felt like it almost happened over night,” said Pates, who was the founding pastor for the parish from its inception in 1998 until he was appointed bishop for the Minneapolis/St. Paul archdiocese in 2001.
Last month Pates, who still lives in Woodbury, helped the church celebrate its 10th anniversary by presiding over mass. He also joined the congregation for cake afterward.“It was nothing over the top,” said Rev. Tom Walker, the current pastor for St. Ambrose. “We had a little celebration afterwards, and Bishop Pates told some great stories about what it was like during those early years. I think our parishioners have always had a fond appreciation for his effort and involvement with the church.”
The anniversary celebration came just weeks before Pates was appointed this month to lead the archdiocese of Des Moines, Iowa.
Church parishioners said the news was bittersweet.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to see him lead the Des Moines archdiocese,” said parishioner Sharon D'Agostino. “But we’ll definitely miss his physical presence in the community. He’s been such a tremendous spiritual leader for us over the years.”
A Catholic church of now more than 1,000 members, it once held its masses in the Woodbury High School auditorium. St. Ambrose offices were in a rented building down the road.
But current staff members of the church and the school that serves students grades K-8 say the growth the parish has made in its first decade is nothing short of a unique feat. And they say they owe much of their thanks to Pates.
“He had an idea of what this worship community would look like and he helped us carry that vision out to a T,” said Matthew Metz, principal for St. Ambrose Catholic School, who came to know Pates as the church’s founding pastor.
Pates led the St. Ambrose congregation through its first mass at the Holiday Inn off McKnight Road on St. Patrick’s Day 1998.
The archdiocese made the decision to found the church in Woodbury after witnessing an overflow of attendees at St. Rita’s in Cottage Grove and Guardian Angels in Oakdale.
Pates said the pastors of the neighboring churches “almost beat down the doors of the archdiocese insisting that it was necessary to bring a new parish to Woodbury.”
Archbishop Harry Flynn chose Pates to be the founding pastor for the church while Pates was still serving as pastor at a Minneapolis parish that had recently seen a merger of two congregations.
“I was a little reluctant to leave for St. Ambrose because of the delicate situation of helping two parishes merge,” Pates said. “But once I met the folks of St. Ambrose, I couldn’t have been more excited about the experience.”
Pates said several members of the congregation stepped up immediately to bring together plans and finances for a new church that now stands on County Road 19 and Bailey Road.
“We had all the people and the right conditions,” he said. “We just needed a catalyst to get things going. It made my job easier because the parish had many people who stepped up.”
Even after he left the parish for his position as bishop of the archdiocese, Pates continued to maintain a strong relationship with St. Ambrose parishioners, Walker said.
Pates is scheduled to leave for his new post in May, but will make one more official appearance at the church on Friday, May 2. He will attend a benefit dinner for the Bishop Richard E. Pates Endowment, a fund established in his name that raises money for tuition assistance for students at St. Ambrose Catholic School.
Rev. Walker said the event will give St. Ambrose parishioners one last time to say goodbye to their founding pastor before his new venture. Woodbury Bulletin