I was told that a Jesuit has to be a soldier, saint, and gentleman. Ambrose was one such. He was a soldier. He fought for a cause/an idea/an ideal/an ideology, be it for the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden, the Dalits. He fought at the local, national and international levels. He was recognized as their advocate.
Ambrose was a saint. He prayed regularly spent time in silence and reflection. During his last days he confided: “I have always felt God is with me even when times were difficult. These days I want to be alone with God.”
Ambrose was a gentleman though not perfect. He had his limitations. Occasionally, he was cut and dry – too clear-cut even when reality was murky. But he was never petty. His loyalty to the Church and the Society of Jesus were never in doubt. Ambrose challenged us to rise above our narrow hidden loyalties, in the interest of better human and religious communities. He was fearless in speech and writing. He stood up for justice, for the right to live, and the obligation to let live.
Ambrose was a scholar and an activist. He wrote extensively: 5 books, edited (10), co-edited (5). He wrote articles in learned journals (100+), contributed to volumes (25+), etc. He was associated of great scholars and eminent national personalities: Kuldip Nayar, Teesta Setalvad, Kancha Ilaiah, Medha Patkar, Kanaiah Kumar, and Gauri Lankesh to mention a few. He encouraged students, staff, and the general public to stand up for justice and truth. For his involvement with and support to thinkers and intellectuals, he received threats and hate mail. But he was not intimidated by these.
Ambrose was a successful administrator and fostered research and academic excellence in the institutes of learning. He received many awards from the State and civil society: Rajyostava Award for social service, Garden City Award for best Principal, Journalistic Award for the best coverage for SC/ST concerns, etc. He was a member of State committee for identification of backward classes in Karnataka, and a member of the committee for improvement of Government Schools in Karnataka.
There was another side to Ambrose unknown, perhaps, even to Jesuits. Ambrose was a pastor and a counsellor. People struggling in life found new hope thanks to his guidance and inspiration.
Born on Nov 23, 1950 in Bajpe, Ambrose came from a large family. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1968. After his ordination in 1981, he taught for a year at St Aloysius High School, Mangalore, and for two years at St Joseph’s Boys’ High School, Bangalore. He did his tertianship at Hazaribagh in 1984-85. He was a lecturer at St Joseph’s College (1985-1994). As a member of the Ashirvad team (1989-94) he gave it a strong social thrust. He was Principal of St Joseph’s Evening College (1994-98). As Director of the Indian Social Institute (ISI), Delhi (1998-2001), he made it a powerhouse of research, publications and advocacy. After a couple of years as Principal of St Joseph’s Evening College (2001-2003), he took up the reins of St Joseph’s Arts and Science College (2003-2011). He was a research scholar as a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla (2011-2012) and then Director of St Joseph’s Evening College (2012-13). It was then that the Archbishop asked for his services to direct the newly started St Aloysius College in Coxtown. He continued working there till he was diagnosed with cancer of the bladder in May 2017. It kept spreading in spite of the treatments he preferred and chose. This heroic saga ended on January 3, 2018, the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. But, like a true soldier, he kept fighting the disease with dogged determination. It seemed that the deadly disease, while eating away his body, did not dare touch his brains or his indomitable spirit.
Farewell Ambrose, dear friend and great Jesuit: soldier, saint, gentleman, scholar, administrator, pastor, and counsellor. May you rest in peace in the bosom of the Father from whom everything comes and to whom everything returns – a ‘boundless drop united and lost in the boundless ocean’.
- Jerome D’Souza, SJ