Saint Ambrose parish was established in1909 by Archbishop Patrick Riordan of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Francisco. It was named for Saint Ambrose of Milan, a fourth century nobleman who converted to Christianity and became a bishop and Doctor of the Church. Upon his conversion, Ambrose gave his wealth to the poor. He became known as a great preacher and prolific writer, and he was instrumental in the conversion of Saint Augustine.
The original church was a wood-framed building with a shingled exterior, which stood at the intersection of Gilman Street and Stannage Avenue the site of the current rectory. The parish’s first Mass was said on Christmas Day, 1910.
The current church building, at the intersection of Gilman Street and Cornell Avenue, was completed and dedicated in 1952. It is a steel-reinforced concrete structure, designed in the Gothic style with mission touches by San Francisco architect Vincent Buckley and erected by San Francisco contractors Carrico and Gautier. Its stained glass windows were designed and crafted by Carl Huneke of San Francisco’s Century Stained Glass Studio. They are made of traditional leaded cathedral glass in an English style, with the exquisite faces, graceful forms, and long draped garments that are the hallmarks of Huneke’s art.
The interior of the church is further enhanced by magnificent woodwork and Stations of the Cross in the style of the Renaissance sculptor Luca Della Robbia. On completion of the new church, the old church was demolished and replaced by the current rectory.
December 7, 1952, the date of the dedication of the new church building by San Francisco Archbishop John Mitty, held a twofold significance. On December 7, 374 this had been the date on which Ambrose of Milan was baptized into the Catholic Church. On December 7, 1909, in celebration of Saint Ambrose’s feast day, the original church building had been dedicated by Archbishop Riordan.
The new building has withstood over sixty years of earthquakes, floods, and even vandalism. It has also seen great changes in the membership of Saint Ambrose parish, as the ethnic and cultural makeup of the entire Bay Area has changed in dramatic ways over the past half-20th century and the beginning of 21st century. The parish became a part of the Diocese of Oakland when it was established in 1962 by Pope John XXIII.
In 2001, Oakland Bishop John Cummins turned stewardship of St. Ambrose Church over to the Salesians of St. John Bosco of the province of Bangalore, India. A Sunday Spanish- language mass was added in 2005.
In the year 2011, the parish of St. Ambrose was assigned to the Salesians of St. John Bosco of San Francisco, California.