St. Ambrose Parish is a community of people from Western Washington County, in Southeastern Ohio, with common roots of Catholic heritage and tradition extending back 135 years.
The churches of St. Ambrose in Belpre and Vincent owe their beginnings mainly to Irish immigrants who came to this country in the mid 1800's due to political injustice and famine in the "auld sod." Undoubtedly, the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad, later the B&O, had much to do with bringing these Irish immigrants to the area as it began expanding its rail lines around 1840.
The first Catholic church in wester Washington County, built in Little Hocking and named St. Mary's of the River, was blessed by it's first pastor, Father Dean Hartnedy, in 1877. A parish cemetary was opened there in 1883 and is still in use. By 1888, St. Mary's of the River had 91 families, and its registry was a litany of the purest irish names. Parishioners of this little church lived not just in the vincinity of Little Hocking. They also came from Cutler, Dunbar, Fleming, Vincent, and Belpre. With the completion of the railroad, many if the Irish parishioners moved to the Vincent area and took up farming for a living. By 1895, there were enough Catholics in the area to warrant the building of a church, and thus St. Ambrose, Vincent, came into being. It was dedicated on September 15, 1895, by Bishop Watterson of the Diocese of Columbus. This 35' by 73' building of Romanesque style architecture was built at a cost of $3000 with the parishioners doing part of the work. In 1901, a Mrs. Connor had donated to the Diocese of Columbus a lot with a one-story frame house, 15' by 24', on upper Main Street in Belpre that served the Catholics of the Belpre area for almost 40 years.
In 1938, a group of parishioners in Vincent petitioned their Bishop of the Diocese of Columbus to send them a resident priest and offered to provide a rectory. Bishop Harley had other plans. He wanted to establish a permanent parish in Belpre. Two lots at the corner of Maple and Ridge Streets were purchased, and on August 5, 1939, the new church of St. Ambrose was solemnly dedicated. About this time. Vincent became a mission at Belpre. No one seems to know why this new church was given the same name as the existing one at Vincent. Did Bishop Hartley forsee that some fifty years later the two churches would be combined and a new church ediface would be built?
In 1988, Fr. Norbert Connelly, pastor of St. Ambrose Church, Belpre, received word from Bishop Albert Ottenweller that he wanted combined under one priest the Churches of St. Ambrose Belpre and St. Ambrose Vincent. In 1989-1991 Fr. Thomas Marut and Fr. Timothy Shannon continued the work of Bishop Ottenweller's directive. Fr. David Huffman was appointed pastor in March of 1991. In 1992 Bishop Ottenweller continued his objective for a combined parish by requesting that a parish committee select a piece of land and the Diocese would purchase it (a ten-year, interest free loan). Afavorable site was soon located just west of Porterfield, 21,2 acres being sold by Attorney Gary Carson whose father had raised turkeys on this and other surrounding property. (Most of the Carson family was killed in a tragic train accident in Porterfield in the 1950's. Attorney Carson now lived near Denver, Colorado.)
In December 1994 a three-year capital fund drive was initiated. In June 1997, under a huge tent erected for the occasion, Bishop Gilbert Sheldon led nearly 450 worshipers in a ground breaking ceremony. The enitre project was completed for the first Mass in the new worshop space on October 3, 1998. Bishop Sheldon presided at the dedication ceremony on November 29, 1998.
The 23,000 sq. ft facility was designed to be flexible, efficient and expandable to meet future needs. Three building elements cluster around one side of the prayer garden; the sanctuary in the middle, a banquet hall on one side and an administration/education wing on the other. Two distinct concrete masonry features anchor the complex- the back wall of the sanctuary and the church spire (modeling a scroll of scripture being opened). The back wall of the sanctuary has nine individual masonry panels, each 24 inches thick, which fan out into a crescent shape. Floor to ceiling stained glass windows separate the panels. At one end of the crescent stands the church spire, a 75 ft. high concrete masonry bell tower which supports a 40 ft., aluminum cross. The 60 month project saw placement of more than 60,000 smooth and split faced concrete masonry units.