Brother Ambrose Corbett

Br. Ambrose was born Thomas Corbett on November 28, 1891 at Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, Ireland. He was a tailor when he entered Mount Melleray Abbey, Co. Waterford on September 8, 1915. He received the novice’s habit there Septenber 9, 1917 from Abbot Maurus Phelan who also received his first vows September 9, 1919. He came to New Melleray Abbey November 20, 1920. Here he made his solemn vows for Mount Melleray November 26, 1922 and changed his stability to New Melleray March 8, 1925.

An old monk who knew him well wrote: 

He was assistant novice master for the lay brothers and was wardrobe keeper. It seems to me he was the holiest monk I ever knew, so regular at all exercises, so prayerful, so charitable. He had a great love of solitude and silence. He was rarely seen at the guest house or on the lawn. He always feared death and the judgement, which fear left him as he was dying. He died at Xavier Hospital [Dubuque, from cancer of the liver] June 29, 1956. I often pray to him.

As a novice I was very impressed by his holy and edifying life. He was very kind when we came to get something from the wardrobe and had a qreat spirit of poverty. He would not waste a thing. Everyday he did some outside work such as chopping wood or pruning grape vines and would take a walk in the enclosure on Sunday afternoon. He spent a lot of time in church before the Blessed Sacrament where his attention seemed to be fixed on Jesus in the tabernacle. His picture was used on an appeal for the monastery building fund in 1949 or 1950. He wrote the following for me about his trip to New Melleray.

Br. Corbett’s account:

On October 31, 1920 Abbot Maurus Phelan of Mount Melleray, Ireland, Fathers Albert and Eugene, Brothers Declan, Kieran and myself, sailed from Liverpool on a small ship named the Magnatic, the only one available at the time. It was a very rough trip almost all the way. For nearly two days and a night there was a terrific storm. I don’t know how the little ship cut its way through the mountainous waves. Oftentimes only the hind part only of the ship would be in the water and then the forepart would dip into a quarry between two waves. It had a desperate struggle to cut its way through the on-coming wave; surf and foam came over the deck. At times I thought it was all over, and that went on for two days and a night.

With a few exceptions, all on board were sick, even the dog. We came down the St. Lawrence river, passing between two icebergs, and reached Quebec about noon, after 8 or 9 days on the sea. After a few hours stay and a drive through the city, we got back to our boat and during the night moved on and reached Montreal about noon the next day. We were met there by Abbot Pachome and Fr. Leopold from Oka. They brought us to a hotel where we had dinner. Fr Eugene and the Brothers left for Chicago. Abbot Maurus, who was very sick, went with Dom Pachome to recuperate at Oka.

Arrival at New Melleray

After a train trip lasting a few days, Fr. Eugene and the Brothers reached Peosta, Iowa. Br. Vincent was waiting with a horse and buggy to bring us to the monastery. After having a cup of coffee at Mr. Burns’ house (a friend of the monks) we started for the monastery. Peosta at that time had only a few small houses; there were no gravel roads: all were mud, hardened by the frost. If the rough sea had anything to brag about, the road from Peosta to the monastery had plenty also. The horses were doing their utmost to keep their hoofs in the ruts, not caring about the wheels of the buggy and its occupants, while Br. Vincent was trying desperately to keep the wheels from being broken to pieces by keeping them in the tracks made by other cars. It was give and take all the way. At times I would be looking down on the Brothers sitting opposite me, and in a moment they would be looking down on me. When we reached the monastery we felt it would have been much easier and faster if we had walked from Peosta. Fr. Bruno received us very kindly on the steps outside the priest’s room. The monastery and precincts were sadly neglected. The road along by the guest house was so narrow that two cars could hardly pass each other. There were no gravel roads, no electricity, no silos, no tractors nor trucks. Oil lamps were in use. The enclosure was a wire fence along by the trees outside the priest’s room. There too, cord wood was piled along the road. Coal was not used at that time.

Members of the Community—1920

There were nineteen persons in the community, one choir novice and two lay novices, one of them an old man, uncle to the choir novice. All three left. Br. Bernard was the only young one. All the rest aged 60 to 90. It was easy to understand why the place was so neglected. It was impossible for such men in their condition to observe the full rule. Br. Dominic was an old invalid. He was very simple and childlike. When he was a young Brother, one day as he was driving a team of oxen, the oxen took fright and ran like mad towards the grove. Fearing they would run into the trees, Br. Dominic jumped from the wagon, breaking his legs and ribs. From then on he was in the infirmary, and died when he was 86 years old. Br. Nicholas was cook. He was very tall, and you could count every bone in his body he was so thin. He spent much time alone in the old potato cellar, saying his prayers. The cooking was done on an open fire, with wood for fuel. Br. Nicholas was 93 or more when he died. He seemed to be in great distress toward the end. When he would cry out, I would sprinkle holy water on him. The last time I did this, he opened his eyes very wide and said, “Oh, how beautiful!” Then he died.