The Rev. James J. Ambrogi, a popular Roman Catholic priest known for his expertise in managing church construction projects and for his concern for the poor, died Friday, Nov. 18, after a short illness.
Teresa Diamond, a family friend, said Father Ambrogi, 80, had broken several ribs in a fall at home recently and died of ensuing respiratory complications.
Father Ambrogi was raised in West Philadelphia, attended St. Thomas More High School, which closed in 1975, and trained for the priesthood at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.
Father Ambrogi was ordained in the 1960s and took to heart the emerging social gospel that emphasized concern for the poor and the need to right social inequities. He spent much time and effort raising money and collecting food and other items for poor parishes in Philadelphia and stressed the need for generosity.
The Ambrogi Food Distribution Co., a prominent produce supplier in the region run for a time by Father Ambrogi's brother, and later his nephew, often furnished trucks for the delivery of the donated items.
Father Ambrogi spent much of his career serving parishes in South Philadelphia, where he became known for his skill in managing church building projects. Father David Diamond, a longtime friend and pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Jenkintown, said Father Ambrogi not only had a talent for overseeing projects, but was good with his hands and happily did some of the work himself, putting up drywall and laying tile, when needed.
"He had a great love for the poor, and his parish was continually donating to people in the archdiocese who were less fortunate," said Diamond, brother of Teresa.
He eventually was assigned to St. Patrick Church in Malvern, where burgeoning membership caused parish leaders to decide to build a new church.
"It was truly overflowing; people would sometimes have to stand outside" during Mass, said parish member Brian Sweeney. As the parish planned for construction of the building, Father Ambrogi would urge parishioners to contribute, he said.
"He announced to everyone one Sunday that he had all the money he needed to build the church, and there was a lot of murmuring, and he said, 'It is in your pockets,' " said Sweeney.
Father Ambrogi was beloved by parishioners, Sweeney said, because he was accessible.
"He was a fun guy, he enjoyed going to parties with people and having a few drinks," Sweeney said. "He truly enjoyed life."
Teresa Diamond said Father Ambrogi loved sports, particularly the Eagles, as well as animals, and during his lifetime owned five dogs.
In addition to overseeing construction of a new church building at St. Patrick, Father Ambrogi also supervised the building of a new gymnasium at St. Patrick School.
He is survived by a brother, William, of Mount Laurel, N.J., and many nieces and nephews.
A Mass will be said Tuesday, Nov. 22, at 7 p.m. at St. Patrick Church in Malvern, preceded by a viewing. There will also be a viewing Wednesday, Nov. 23, at St. Patrick from 9:15 to 10:45 a.m., followed by a Funeral Mass at 11. Interment will be at Holy Cross Cemetery.