Focus on Fostoria - Mar0905

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Published on 03/09/05 in the Fostoria Focus
Remembering Father Ambrose Weber, 'Ohio's Bicycle Priest'
By LEONARD SKONECKI
Focus Correspondent
- Click for picture -

Have bike, will minister Father Ambrose A. Weber was St. Wendelin’s pastor for 37 years, from 1904-41. He rode his chainless bicycle to minister to rural “missions” served by the parish when he was the priest in Willard. He rode that same bike around Fostoria for over 20 years. He was known as “Ohio’s Bicycle Priest.”

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In 1904, Father Ambrose Weber became the pastor of St. Wendelin Parish. He was the only pastor St. Wendelin would have for the next 37 years.

Curiously, Father Weber was born March 25, 1854 in Rust, Germany. That was the year the villages of Rome and Risdon merged to form the city of Fostoria. His parents were Aloysius and Ursula. His father was a manufacturer and a dealer in produce.

By the time he was 16 both his parents had died. Father Weber had five sisters and four brothers. He left them and decided to come to America. He sailed from the port of Bremen in 1870.

Other members of the Weber family had settled in Sandusky and young Ambrose joined them. He went to work for his uncle as a harness maker.

He entered the seminary at Assumption College in Sandwich, Ontario. He continued his studies for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary’s of the West in Cincinnati and St. Mary’s Seminary in Cleveland. Illness forced him to put down his studies for two years. He was ordained in 1886.

Before putting down roots in Fostoria, Father Weber ministered at parishes in Warren, Ashtabula Harbor and Cleveland. He lived under six Popes — Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI and Pius XII.
Father Weber oversaw much of the growth of St. Wendelin. During his pastorate, the rectory (1905), convent, grade school (1911) and the original portion of the high school on Countyline Street (1931) were built.

During his time at St. Wendelin, he performed 2,000 baptisms, 500 weddings and 800 funerals.
Religious vocation was widespread in Father Weber’s family. He had two nieces who became nuns and a nephew who became a priest. Nine young men entered the priesthood because of the encouragement of Father Weber.

St. Wendelin celebrated Father Weber’s Golden Jubilee June 5-12, 1936. At the time Karl Alter was the Bishop of Toledo.

“If it is piety which we seek in the priest, we shall find it exemplified in your own life, if it is prudence combined with wisdom, devotion and zeal, then you are entitled to our reverence and to our gratitude,” Bishop Alter said.

Congratulatory messages were received from the bishops of Scranton, Cleveland, Rochester, Covington (Ky.) and the archbishop of Milwaukee.

A jubilee booklet was prepared by nine members of the SWHS class of 1936. Those students were Beatrice Thom, Josephine Rosinski, Anna George, Jeanette Huth, Virginia Klinepeter, Loretta Brickner, Carl Myers, John Martin and Joseph Gabriel.

The St. Wendelin church bells were donated to the parish in 1881 by Martin Kingseed, successful local hardware merchant. Father Weber liked the bells. He didn’t like the pigeons that often inhabited the bell towers.

The story goes that there are patches in the domes that capped the bell towers of the old church. The patches were necessary to repair holes caused by Father Weber’s ongoing battles with the pigeons. Every so often, he would take a shotgun and unload a couple rounds to drive the pigeons off.
Father Weber was famous for the bicycle that he rode almost everywhere he went. In fact, his fellow men of the cloth called him “Ohio’s Bicycle Priest.”

When he was a parish priest in Warren in the 1880s, he was responsible for 17 “missions,” little flocks in the outlying areas. Father Weber purchased a chainless bicycle.

He would leave Warren on Monday or Tuesday and visit each of his missions with his “kit” tied to the back of the bike, arriving back in Warren on Friday or Saturday.

When he came to Fostoria, he still had his bicycle which he generally used in preference to a car until 1926. Then the 72-year-old priest was involved in something that didn’t exist when he became a priest 40 years earlier — an automobile accident.

He was struck by a car while riding his bicycle and, though he kept the bike, he no longer used it to get around town.

Father Weber’s health began to fail in his early 80s. His death on Friday Aug. 22, 1941, at 9:15 in the evening was not unexpected. He was 87 years old. He is buried in St. Wendelin Cemetery.

Father Weber’s body was kept at the rectory from the time of his death until 3 p.m. Monday, Aug. 25, when his remains were taken to the church. The body was there for viewing around the clock until the funeral Mass and burial at 10 o’clock Tuesday morning. All that time, day and night, an honor guard of men of the parish stood watch over the body.

Bishop Alter conducted the funeral Mass.

Though sick, Father Weber was not bedridden. That Friday morning, he was up early as usual. He said Mass on the morning of the day he died.