Father Ambrose C. Graham, MM

Born: April 26, 1915
Ordained: June 21, 1942
Died: June 3, 1986

Father Ambrose C. Graham died in the early morning of June 3, 1986, at Phelps Memorial Hospital. He was a resident at Los Altos until March of this year when he came to the Center for medical attention.

Fr. Graham was known to his Maryknoll Family as ‘Amby’. He was born in New York City on April 26, 1915. Amby hailed from St. Luke’s Parish in the Bronx. While still in grammar school he became interested in Maryknoll and it was after reading the Field Afar and hearing the preaching of Fr. John Coulehan, that he applied to Maryknoll High School at the Venard in 1928.

He was ordained on June 21, 1942 and assigned to Bolivia where all of his missionary work was carried out. From 1964 to 1973 he worked in the Development Department while at the same time recuperating from illnesses he had developed while laboring in one of Maryknoll’s most difficult mission areas, the Pando jungle in Bolivia. Small legends grew up around Amby’s many feats while doing his mission work. These are only hinted at by the evaluation of his superiors. One superior wrote: “In his work he has been thoroughly devoted to the difficult task he had in Mision Cavinas. The mission had been neglected for twenty years, the Indians out of hand, and their income was down. No one had experience in the problems. Father Graham has proven a tough, zealous pioneer. As a missioner he has proven himself equal to great physical hardships. He has made journeys of several hundred miles looking for rubber trees and visiting the people on the pampas, riding as much as 60 miles a day, sleeping on the ground by his horse at night, finding his own food.”

Another superior wrote: “Amby is an excellent missioner. He has lived without comfort for the past eight years. He has taken on the roughest jobs in the Pando Vicariate and has handled them well. He has developed a method of catechetics for the river settlements and thus has brought the Church to countless numbers of people.”

What drove this man to survive these difficulties was his great love for the poor and needy. Amby tried to keep up on medical remedies to be able to do some infirmary work in the isolated areas of the jungle. Bishop Escalante, Vicar Apostolic of the Pando, wrote: “He loves the mission he lives in and is willing to go through any sacrifice to make it progress. He is fearless under any danger.” Still another superior wrote: “Under great handicaps he visited every settlement in his district, travelling by mule for weeks at a stretch and living like the people. His endurance of hardships, though at times imprudent, is to be commended.”

During his Novitiate year at Maryknoll, the students were required to write a short autobiography. Amby wrote the following: “While all America breathlessly watched the flames of hate destroy the great countries of Europe, a loud, wailing infant tried to attract some attention for itself. But aside from a birth certificate which briefly stated that Ambrose Graham was born on the twenty-sixth day of April, 1915, my presence in the world occasioned no comment… At present I am taking a course at Bedford which deals with the study of sanctity. I am continually reminded to root out evil inclinations by the practice of the principles of Ascetical Theology and the habit of meditation and prayer. I am also learning my duties to the Society and the importance of the Oath. I am thankful for this year, for I have a clearer understanding of the priesthood and I realize the necessity of becoming a saint in order to fulfill my obligations.” To those who knew Amby, he was a man of his words. In his humility he strove to become a saint – to be what Christ was calling him to be. May he now be joined with the community of saints in the Kingdom of the Father. May he rest in peace.

He was buried at Maryknoll, N.Y. The Funeral Mass was celebrated on June 5th by Fr. Joseph Hahn with Fr. David I. Walsh as the Homilist. Fr. Gordon Fritz had conducted the Vigil Ceremony the night before, and the Biography was read by Brother Larry Kenning. Fr. Ed McClear presided at the grave.