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Br. Anthony Ambrogio (1934-2011) Taught English at Savio High School 1976-1981

By Fr. Mike Mendl, SDB

Brother Anthony Ambrogio, SDB, died at E.D. White Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Feb. 7, 2011, after a long illness. Family members and his Salesian confreres were with him. Father Michael Conway, SDB, director of the St. Petersburg Salesian community, said, “He put up a valiant battle against the illness up to the end, and he passed peacefully.”

Brother Ambrogio was 76 and had been a Salesian brother for more than 55 years, a life “spent in education, the arts, and service to the poor,” said Father Thomas Dunne, SDB, the Salesian provincial.

He was born to John and Catherine Migale Ambrogio in Pittsburgh on June 2, 1934, and baptized at St. Peter’s Church in that city four months later.

Intent on becoming a Salesian brother, Anthony entered the Salesian seminary program at Don Bosco Technical High School in Paterson, N.J., in 1953. In September 1954 he began his novitiate at Newton, N.J., and a year later, on Sept. 8, 1955, he made his first profession of the religious vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity in Newton.

After four years in Paterson (1955-1959), Brother Ambrogio was called to Don Bosco Technical High School in Boston to teach art. There he also took up teaching English and began working on a bachelor’s degree at Boston College in that subject, which he completed in 1966—mostly while teaching full time. He minored in art. Continuing to teach full-time, he also earned a master’s degree in American literature at New York University in 1974.

Brother Ambrogio would eventually spend 30 years teaching art and English to juniors and seniors at Don Bosco Tech in Boston (1959-1964, 1966-1967, 1981-1989), Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y. (1964-1966), Don Bosco Tech in Paterson (1967-1976), and St. Dominic Savio High School in East Boston (1976-1981).

For 27 years he was also yearbook moderator at the various schools. For a couple of years he was admissions director of Don Bosco Tech in Boston.
Brother Ambrogio put his artistic talents to use decorating for school socials and Salesian celebrations in each of the schools, and in several he also directed the dramatics programs.

He loved to take students to plays on Broadway or in Boston’s theater district. An accomplished chef, he enjoyed cooking for both school and Salesian community activities. He added abundant life to student, parent, and Salesian activities in countless ways.

In a 1975 story on him in Paterson’s Herald News, Josephine Fitzpatrick, a member of the Don Bosco Tech Parents Club, remarked, “Brother Anthony can do anything.”

Those who observed Brother Ambrogio as the English teacher, whether in Paterson, Boston, or East Boston, agree that in the classroom he was strict and  demanded perfection. Not necessarily enjoying his courses, the students respected him. Once they had moved on to college, they appreciated what he had done for them and would often return to thank him “because they were doing very well in their college writing courses and research papers. I think this is the type of legacy that he left the young people at that time,” as Brother Thomas Sweeney, SDB, reports.

Father Naughton confirms that “his students would always come back and tell how easy their English classes were in comparison to what they got from Brother Tony.”

Father Naughton also notes that Brother Ambrogio was “demanding of himself and of his class preparation.” Teaching was a passion for Brother, the former principal states: “The one thing you could feel coming from his classroom, as you walked the corridor, was the passion and enthusiasm coming from the room—and he expected all his students to have that same desire.”

Father Steve Shafran, SDB, was in practical training in East Boston during Brother Ambrogio’s period there, and from Brother he learned effective lesson planning, time management in the classroom, and the importance of creativity.

For all his strictness in English class, says Brother Sweeney, “outside the classroom, he was friendly and mixed in well with the students.” He says they knew that Brother Ambrogio “truly cared for them in a special way.”

Father Shafran, still speaking of his life as a young Salesian, writes: “I remember his great personal skills with people and his gift with art/decorations and community. I believe that many of the things that I have come to know as important in community came from Brother Tony—cooking a good meal, putting together a nice table for birthdays and feasts, decorating for events, etc., and the great skill of interacting with our collaborators in the school environment—staff and faculty of every level. He loved life and had wonderful cheerfulness and optimism. He was the life of the party. I still remember driving the van to faculty and staff homes trick or treating, with Tony dressed as ‘the Godfather’ in pinstriped suit and with cigar, entourage in tow…. Tony had a real clear sense of the things that pointed to happiness, cheerfulness, and joy and were so very important to Don Bosco and Jesus.”

Brother Ambrogio’s apostolic work took a different twist in 1989 with a posting to St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in New York City’s Harlem. There he taught in the vocational education program, worked summer camp, and helped out in various ways for 14 years.

In those years in Harlem he had a heart ailment that several times required hurried emergency trips to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Father Naughton recalls: “We had a little agreement—as I went through the red lights, he would say the Rosary out loud—so we both were almost at ease.”

Suffering from that heart ailment, in 2003 Brother Ambrogio retired to the Salesian community of St. Petersburg Catholic High School. His life was a relatively quiet one, but here, as well, says Father Serio, “he was best known for being a friend to all. He prepared mountains of food, visited his friends on a regular basis, befriended ‘man’s best friend’ [the community’s dog], and added life to the community.”

Father Shafran may speak for many when he states: “I will miss Brother Tony very much, but I will continue to bring those gifts I learned from him to the young and colleagues I serve and to the community I am part of. I will forever be grateful to him.”

On the occasion of his 50th anniversary in 2005, Brother Anthony said that he had persevered in his vocation because Mary Help of Christians was at his side, and St. John Bosco’s educational system had inspired him.

Brother Ambrogio is survived by three sisters, all living in the Pittsburgh area: Philomena Buterbaugh, Theresa Stadelman, and Sara Crescini.

Funeral Arrangements for Brother Anthony Ambrogio, SDB are as follows:

In St. Petersburg: Friday, February 11
Wake: 12:30 to 3:00 p.m. in Our Lady’s Chapel at St. Jude’s Cathedral.
Funeral Mass: 3:30 p.m., Bishop Robert Lynch presiding.

At the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y.: Monday, February 14
Wake: 2:00 to 5:00 and 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial: 7:30 p.m.
At the Salesian Cemetery in Goshen, N.Y.
Burial on Tuesday, February 15, at 10:00 a.m.


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