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A term applied to various religious congregations under the protection of St. ambrose, Bishop of Milan (374397), especially to two groups of women and three groups of men, although neither Augustine nor Ambrose's biographer, Paulinus, says that Ambrose himself founded a religious order. His Treatises on Virginity are exhortations to purity of life and personal sanctity, but not a rule for a religious community.

  1. The first known "Ambrosians," the Oblationaries of St. Ambrose, appeared in the 9th century in Milan as a group of ten poor men and ten poor women at the Scuola dei Vecchioni in Milan who were entrusted, on feast days, with bringing the people's oblation of bread and wine to the altar at the offertory of an ambrosian rite Eucharist.
  2. In the 14th century, three Milanese noblemen, Alexander Crivelli, Anthony Pietrasancta, and Alber Besozzi, sought retreat and solitude in a wooded glen outside the city walls. Clothed in a chestnut-colored habit of tunic, scapular, and cowl, they practiced works of charity and preached to the people. They were joined by others, and in 1375 Gregory XI, before his return from Avignon, gave the growing community of priests and solitaries the Rule of St. augustine, the Ambrosian Rite, and a special constitution under the title of Fratres Sancti Ambrosii ad Nemas. Similar groups began to dot the countryside but the only bond of unity was community custom. In 1441, Eugene IV merged all members into the Congregatio Sancti Ambrosii ad nemus Mediolanensis, designating the original monastery as the motherhouse. Laxity of discipline led to a reform by St. Charles borromeo in 1579. Sixtus V in 1589 added to the congregation the monasteries of the Brothers of St. Barnabas, which had been founded by John Scarpa, and included the name of St. Barnabas in the title. The congregation was dissolved by Innocent X in 1646.
  3. In 1408, the Annunciatae of Lombardy, or Nuns of St. Ambrose, were founded by Dorothea Morosini, Eleanore Contarini, and Veronica Duodi at Pavia. Daughterhouses spread throughout Lombardy and Venetia. Guided by the Rule of St. Augustine, the nuns lived a cloistered life of prayer and poverty under the jurisdiction of the local bishop. Nicholas V and Pius V approved their constitutions. They were suppressed by Napoleon.
  4. Another congregation of Ambrosian sisters was founded by Catherine Morigia in 1474 at Mt. Varese in Lombardy, as a branch of the Ambrosian Fratres. These sisters, dedicated to a life of prayer and penance, wore a chestnut-colored habit, followed the strict rule of St. Augustine, lived in cloister, and used the Ambrosian liturgy. In 1474 they were given canonical status by Sixtus IV under the title Nuns of St. Ambrose. A rapid decline in the 17th century led Innocent X to abolish them, also in 1646.
  5. In implementing the decrees of the Council of Trent in his Diocese of Milan, Charles Borromeo, the "second Ambrose," organized a society of priests under the patronage of Our Lady and St. Ambrose, called Oblates of St. Ambrose, in 1578. He consulted Philip neri and felix of cantalice on the rule for his community, which was approved by Gregory XIII. Living in community and owing obedience to the bishop, they became the bishop's associates in the work of the ministry. In 1810, Napoleon dispersed the congregation but Archbishop Romilli restored it in 1854. The oblate ideal spread to Poitiers in France, to Paderborn in Germany, and, in 1857, to England, under Cardinal Nicholas wiseman, where the community became known as the Oblates of St. Charles.

[m. a. mulholland]

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