St. Augustine Catholic
How open are you to finding God?
Catholic Schools – Embracing our future
St. Vincent’s Celebrates 90 Years
in this issue... 
editor's notes
saint of the month
bishop's message
from the archives
in the know with Fr. Joe
work life
theology 101
your marriage matters
the parenting journey
spiritual fitness
parish profile
around the diocese
calendar of events
parish profile
A Historic Parish Braces for Change
St. Ambrose Parish and Our Lady of Good Counsel Mission

It is a longstanding tradition at St. Ambrose Parish in Elkton to linger outside the church on Sunday mornings and visit. “We’ve been doing that for as long as I can remember,” says parishioner Mary Ellen Masterson, who was born in the parish and whose grandson Noah recently became the first member of the fifth generation of her family to be baptized there. The custom dates back to the earliest days, when parishioners converged on foot, by horseback and in wagons and carts to attend Mass on Sundays. Back then, most families brought Sunday dinner with them, then remained on the church grounds to picnic under the oak trees and relax together till evening.

The sanctuary of St. Ambrose includes an altar (against the wall) that was used prior to Vatican Council II.


The “new” St. Ambrose Church building was completed in 1907 and has served the parish community ever since.

Potluck suppers are still part of the social life of St. Ambrose – and at Our Lady of Good Counsel, the mission church the parish founded in 1876 in nearby Mill Creek. But for the parish where time stood still for so many years, things are rapidly changing. “I’ve been pastor 18 years,” says Father Patrick Carroll. “It’s only been the last couple of years that we’ve suddenly almost doubled in size. The growth has run away, and we can all see that it’s going to continue,” he adds.

Father Carroll, who will retire this spring, explains the population explosion in one word: developments. “Land developers are buying up farms, one after the other, to build neighborhoods,” he says. “The prices they’re offering have gotten too attractive to resist. Families who have been farming for generations are selling, and a flood of new people are moving in. In the next few years, both St. Ambrose and Our Lady of Good Counsel will have to build new churches. We’re predicting that Our Lady of Good Counsel could be the largest parish in the diocese in 10 or 15 years.”

Ed Wagner, who moved into the area from Charlotte four years ago, is one of the “Newcomers” at Our Lady of Good Counsel. A past president of the Parish Council, he concurs with Father Carroll’s assessment, “We are smack dab in the middle of 28 developments that will total roughly 110,000 people in the next 10 years. The whole World Golf Village area is just going bonkers. Growth is really inevitable,” he says.

Besides the obvious challenge of preparing for future growth, there is the more immediate concern of how to blend the old guard with the new. “Some don’t want things to change. But they’ll have to adapt,” notes Father Carroll. “We’ve been a little tiny community where everybody knew everybody,” says St. Ambrose parishioner Betty Jo Brubaker. “So we have to adjust.” She finds it is the new people who are most anxious to slow down change. “They bought into our rural lifestyle and now they like it the way it is,” she says. “But for all of us, it won’t stay the same.”

Wagner is among the new members who have been impressed by the community’s welcoming spirit. “One of the reasons we liked Our Lady of Good Counsel from the start is that we found everybody was open. Not cliquish, like you might expect, but very nice and friendly,” he says. In March of this year, new and old guard alike came together to host the annual St. Ambrose Fair, an event that unites the parish, its mission church and the larger community of Hastings and beyond. The fair is one of the area’s oldest traditions, with a history that is at least 120 years old. It was once a county-style fair, complete with prize-winning animals and produce. Today, the parish’s main fundraiser features music, dancing and lots of food. There’s a country store that sells cabbages, datil peppers, potatoes and other local produce. Lunch is Minorcan cuisine like pork or chicken pilau. “The fair is a rallying cry for the Minorcans,” says Father Carroll. “It’s old home day for them. They come in from St. Augustine and all around.”

As potato and cabbage farms give way to pricey housing developments, as the pace of progress accelerates in one of North Florida’s most secluded spots, there are feelings of anticipation and nostalgia. Father Carroll says he’s relieved to be on the sidelines for the next hectic chapter in St. Ambrose’s history. At the same time, he knows he will miss the life he’s known there. “I live in an 1875 house out in the middle of the fields,” he says. “There are fields and friends all around me. I will take that with me when I go.”

– Shannon Scruby-Henderson

st. ambrose parish at a glance
St. Ambrose Parish
6070 Church Road
Elkton, FL 32033
(904) 692-1366

Our Lady of Good Counsel
5950 State Road 16 (One mile west of International Golf Pkwy at I-95)
Mill Creek, FL 32092

Pastor: Father Patrick Carroll, CSSp
Pastor (as of April 30, 2006): Father Guy Noonan
Deacon: Earl Kidwell
Parishioners: 178 registered families at St. Ambrose Parish
179 registered families at Our Lady of Good Counsel Mission
Director of Religious Education: Sister Bernard Joseph Palmer, SSJ

The Catholic community that grew around St. Ambrose Parish beginning in the early 1800s was bound by more than a common faith: Many members of the parish were also kinfolk. Descended from the Minorcan clan who had lived in St. Augustine since the 1770s, these intertwined families migrated inland to find farmland, settling 12 miles southwest of St. Augustine at Moccasin Branch.

Priests served the parish from St. Augustine until 1860. Then, Father Henry Peter Clavreul arrived from France to minister to the settlement – and to other Catholic enclaves in southwestern St. Johns County. During this period, the Moccasin Branch faithful attended Mass at a barn on the Solano farm. In 1875, Father Clavreul’s successor, Father Stephen Langlade, built the first St. Ambrose Church. A skilled carpenter, Father Langlade was architect and contractor on the project. Parishioners provided labor – and a quota of five pine trees per family.

From 1881 to 1948, a two-room school operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph from St. Augustine educated generations of parish children. By the early 1900s, the community had outgrown Father Langlade’s hand-hewn building. The “new” St. Ambrose Church was finished in 1907. It has served the parish ever since.