For Deacon Emile Ambroise, helping his fellow Haitian-Americans was a family affair. He often brought his wife and four children with him to help serve, teach and counsel.
"We all contributed," said daughter Mathilde Ambroise, a marriage and family therapist in Belle Glade. "He was a man of great integrity and family values."
Deacon Ambroise, a resident of Lake Park, died on Monday in West Palm Beach of pulmonary problems. He was 80.
Director of Haitian ministries in West Palm Beach for two decades, Deacon Ambroise was a fixture in the Haitian community even before the Diocese of Palm Beach was established in 1984. He preached, served Communion, held prayer meetings, coordinated choirs, organized youth groups, prepared people for baptisms and marriages — even served as a notary public.
And for years, he was the man to call, day or night, when Haitian refugees arrived, or doctors needed a Creole translator for a patient.
"On paper, my job is 40 hours," he told the Sun Sentinel in 1989. "But it's really 24 hours a day."
Born Oct. 24, 1931, in Jacmel, Haiti, Deacon Ambroise became a government economist but left in 1965 for Zaire, Africa. He taught high school there for two years, then moved to New Jersey, where he ended up doing factory work.
In Newark, he was ordained a deacon in 1978, leading the first Communion services in French for Haitian immigrants there. Hearing of the Haitian influx to South Florida, he and wife Maryse Ambroise visited, and asked churchmen about the ministry. He moved to Palm Beach County in 1980.
He was seemingly everywhere — Belle Glade, Delray Beach, Indiantown, Fort Pierce, West Palm Beach — serving before the Catholic Church was able to bring in Haitian priests.
"Deacon Emile was a great blessing to this diocese in so many ways," Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach, who will be the main celebrant at his funeral Mass, said in a statement. "He truly was a man of the Church and an example of family life. May he now enjoy the fullness of life with God which he so richly deserves."
He and his wife also pitched in on relief work in Haiti, arriving two days after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Port-Au-Prince, Mathilde Ambroise said. He often returned to help Haitians there over the years.
He was also there as a father. "He'd take time with us," Mathilde Ambroise said.
Surviving relatives include his wife, four children, five grandchildren, two sisters and a brother.
A funeral Mass for Deacon Ambroise will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul of The Cross parish, 10970 State Road A1A, North Palm Beach. Interment will be at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery, Royal Palm Beach.
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