Moccasin Branch meanders through the farmland west of St. Augustine. By the early 1800s members of the Minorcan community began farming this area. By the end of the Civil War, that community was well established.
Sister Althea Jackson recently provided this history of St. Ambrose Parish in her column for the St. Augustine Record:
In 1860, Father Henry Clavreul came from France to Florida, and soon began ministering to the Catholic settlement of Moccasin Branch, 12 miles southwest of St. Augustine, that later became St. Ambrose Parish. St. Ambrose established its own missions, in rural areas of St. Augustine, that are now Corpus Christi and San Sebastian parishes. St. Ambrose was named for the priest who converted and baptized St. Augustine of Hippo, our diocesan patron saint. This area was named St. Augustine because it was on Aug. 28, 1565, the Feast Day of St. Augustine, that the Spaniards who came to take over Florida first sighted land near where Cape Canaveral is now. The Spaniards sailed north until they found a good harbor, and landed here on Sept. 5, 1565, and celebrated their first Mass in the New World.
A small wooden church was built at Moccasin Branch, and on Feb. 15, 1875, the first Mass was celebrated by Father Stephen Langlade, the parish’s first priest, who served for 45 years, to 1920.
By 1881, Father Langlade was in residence in a rectory that had been built near the church, along with a convent for some of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and a school where the nuns would teach the community’s children. In 1907 the present church was built. St. Ambrose has a mission church, Our Lady of Good Counsel, on State Road 16, in Bakersville.
Like many rural churchyard cemeteries, graves are frequently arranged in family groups, providing a history of the residents of area. And, since often it is the parishioners who maintain the cemetery property, you’ll find some very creative expressions of love and respect from those families. I visited St. Ambrose Graveyard during the Christmas holidays and found many graves decorated with poinsettias and other Christmas decorations.
Visiting historic St. Ambrose Church and the churchyard cemetery is always a delightful way to enjoy a beautiful Florida day.