Father Ambrose Hessling
Born: Peoria, Illinois, January 2, 1931
Professed: July 11, 1951
Ordained: June 2, 1957
Died: December 31, 2016
Just as the tower bells were calling the community to the vigil of the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, Fr. Ambrose was called to his eternal home, dying in the abbey infirmary and accompanied by the presence and prayers of Abbot Philip.
He was born January 2, 1931, the son of Edmund and Clara Hessling, in Peoria, Illinois, and was baptized under the patronage of St. Bernard. He attended St. Joseph’s School in Peoria, graduating in 1944. He had an uncle who was a priest who suggested that he go to the Josephenum in Columbus, Ohio. Bernard did not like being so far from home and after a single semester concluded he was not destined for the priesthood. He then returned home and entered Spalding Institute.
After graduation he was approached by our Fr. Fabian who was on the Spalding faculty at that time, and he suggested the young man attend St. Bede Junior College. Bernard joined nine of his Spalding classmates in the seminary department on the fourth floor. Rediscovering a vocation to the priesthood and eventually the monastic life, he entered the abbey novitiate in 1950, taking the name Ambrose, and professed his first vows on July 11, 1951. After studying theology at Saint Bede College and St. John’s University, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1957, at which time he was put in charge of the abbey’s print shop for a period of nine years.
For many years Fr. Ambrose was active in ministering to divorced and widowed Catholics through the Benedictine Religious Education Center. He served several terms on the abbey’s senior council, and regularly played the organ for abbey church services until shortly before his death. In 1995, Fr. Ambrose undertook the Recyclage program at Sant’Anselmo, or as he put it, “went to Rome to have my theology recycled.” He returned with a wealth of stories with which he entertained the community at haustus, and with spiritual insights to share in his homilies. For many years he also enjoyed attending the summer scripture workshops at Loyola.
From 1966 until 2010 Fr. Ambrose was in charge of the abbey powerhouse and grounds crew. It was in this capacity that he made his most lasting and memorable contributions to the community. Easy going and genial by nature, he proved nearly unflappable in the face of mechanical crises, repairing everything from broken water mains to temperamental tractor engines and fractious radiators. He kept all of the abbey and academy vehicles in good working order and directed the efforts to maintain the grounds, often spending hours on a mower or behind the wheel of a snowplow. He continued to serve on weekend mission assignments, and was even known to hear the confessions of fellow mechanics as they repaired a vehicle, one leaning over the motor above and the other on the mechanic’s trolley below, with the engine block serving as the confessional screen. Even as his involvement with maintenance gradually lessened, he continued to serve as a valuable advisor to the maintenance staff and remained in his living quarters on the upper level of the powerhouse, accompanied by a succession of beloved cats.
In his later years, Fr. Ambrose suffered from hearing loss, and macular degeneration made it more difficult for him to see, but he gamely filled in as organist whenever he could, even after he began to lose feeling in his hands and feet. He made use of a walker and eventually an electric wheelchair. His kidneys gradually failed, and after a month-long hospital stay and a short time in a nursing home, he returned to the abbey infirmary for his final days. His beloved family visited en masse, much to his delight and comfort, and he died peacefully on December 31, just two days shy of his 86th birthday.
He was preceded in death by his parents and two nieces, Regina and Kristin. He is survived by one sister, Suzanne (Mike) Fleissner of Madisonville TN, and three nieces: Denise Barto of Reston, VA; Yvonne (Tim) Sippy of Cedar Rapids, IA; and Janine (Steve) Terrell of Peoria, IL.
We are grateful for the suffrages you will offer for our deceased confrere, and we promise faithful remembrance of your deceased.
Abbot Philip and community