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In Memory

Sister Mary Frances Ambs, IHM

November 9, 1932 – March 14, 2021

Sister Mary Frances Ambs, IHM, (formerly known as Sister M. Frances Cabrini) of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary died on Sunday, March 14, 2021, at Our Lady of Peace Residence in Scranton, PA.

She was born on November 9, 1932, in Dushore, PA, and given the name Patricia. She was the daughter of the late Frank and Emma Bahl Ambs. She entered the IHM Congregation on September 8, 1950, made her temporary profession of vows on August 2, 1953, and her final profession of vows on August 2, 1956.

Sister Mary Frances served as a teacher at the following schools: St. Agnes Elementary School in Lock Haven, PA, from 1953 to 1955; Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Elementary School in Altoona, PA, from 1955 to 1959; St. Rosalia Elementary School in Pittsburgh, PA, from 1959 to 1963; St. Agnes Elementary School in Baltimore, MD, from 1963 to 1968; St. Mary Elementary School in Manhasset, NY, from 1968 to 1971; Epiphany Elementary School in Sayre, PA, from 1971 to 1976; St. Cecilia Elementary School in Exeter, PA, in 1977; Nativity Elementary School in Scranton, PA, from 1977 to 1985; and St. John the Evangelist Elementary School in Binghamton, NY, from 1985 to 2010.

From 2010 until the time of her death, Sister Mary Frances served as a prayer minister at the IHM Center and Our Lady of Peace Residence in Scranton.

She received a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from Marywood College.

She was preceded in death by two brothers, Francis and Joseph; and two sisters, Mary Zeigler and Agnes Bayait.

She is survived by nieces and nephews; and by the members of the IHM Congregation.

Interment will be at St. Catherine’s Cemetery in Moscow, PA. Due to restrictions related to the coronavirus, the funeral mass and graveside service are private.

Memorial contributions may be made to support the retired IHM Sisters c/o the IHM Sisters Retirement Fund, IHM Center, 2300 Adams Avenue, Scranton, PA 18509.

Funeral Link: https://video.ibm.com/recorded/129586041

Combined Vespers Prayer Service: https://video.ibm.com/recorded/129991200


Sister Mary Frances Ambs, IHM
Funeral Eulogy, March 19, 2021
by Sister Ellen Maroney, IHM, Congregation President

“We’re all brought into this life because heaven loves us,
and back to that love we go.”

Robert Lax

These words were spoken by the late poet, Robert Lax, when, in his eighties, he was asked if he feared death. Lax was a classmate and life-long friend of Thomas Merton and the two shared a deep spirituality centered on trust and love of God in all. That same kind of trust and love of God was central to the way Mary Frances lived throughout her life and was the foundation of her own inner strength and humility.

A native of Dushore, PA, Patricia Ambs grew up with her sisters and brothers in a loving family and close-knit neighborhood. As was common at that time, the parish church was the spiritual and social center for the Ambs family during Patricia’s early and teen years. Her desire to enter the IHM congregation at age eighteen was therefore not a total shock to her parents, though they did disclose some mixed emotions initially. For the sixty-eight years of her religious life, Sister M. Frances Cabrini (the name given to her at her first profession, which she later had changed to Mary Frances, a.k.a. Sister Pat, as you, her family, always called her) dedicated her life to serving God and others through the ministry of education. She taught in elementary schools in Lock Haven, Altoona, Exeter, Sayre, and Scranton, PA; in Baltimore, Maryland; and in Manhasset and Binghamton, New York. Her love of the young children she taught was a special blessing that filled her with joy throughout her life. She nurtured their minds, bodies, and souls both in and out of the classroom with gentle, reassuring encouragement that bolstered their self-confidence. She knew her students not just by their names; she also knew their likes and dislikes, their individual strengths and weaknesses. A belief that underscored her teaching practice was that when you reach out to children with love, they learn to respond in the same way. Mary Frances’ own faith and love, instilled in her by her family and sustained by prayer and the grace of a deep trust in God, witnessed every day to her young students that they were each loved and valued and were far more important for who they were rather than any test or contest or sports achievement. She modeled that lesson for her students every day she was in the classroom.

Those who were fortunate enough to live or minister with Mary Frances enjoyed her welcoming spirit, her integrity, her quiet steadiness, and her generosity. Those who got to know her well relished her kindness and advice. That spirit was especially evident in her dedication to her family and we see that love reciprocated today by the number of second and third generation relatives present here with us. They shared some great stories with us this morning. My favorite was the story by Joe about the time he got ‘Sister Pat’ to get on the back of his motorcycle for what she thought was a very short ride, but turned out to be up and down the streets of Dushore, with her veil flapping in the wind and Mary Frances hanging onto Joe while screaming the entire time. Mary Frances was especially dedicated to the care of her parents. She requested and received from the congregation a leave of absence from her teaching ministry to care for her parents when first her mother, then later her father, became ill. Her experience led her to minister on weekends to the sick and elderly from her parish who were in hospitals and nursing homes. When Mary Frances came to Scranton in 2010, she volunteered as a tutor in our IHM EEI program before moving here to OLP as a prayer minister.

Mary Frances will be missed by all of us, but we rejoice that she is now at home with her God and enjoying eternal life with her parents Emma and Frank, her sisters, Mary and Agnes, and her brothers, Francis and Joseph, who preceded her in death. I have no doubt they are all celebrating a joyous reunion today in heaven.

We remember today very specially ‘Sister Pat’s’ family: her niece, Karen, her many other nieces and nephews and their extended families; her Band members, all her IHM sisters, and all who knew and loved her. We ask the God of all consolation to comfort us in this time of loss.

I mentioned earlier about the friendship between poet Robert Lax and Thomas Merton. For nearly thirty years, they corresponded and their letters were eventually published in a compilation entitled, “When Prophecy Still Had a Voice.” One of the lines from Lax concerned how a person might become more spiritual. He wrote that one essential step was to “put yourself in a place where Grace can flow.” We know that Mary Frances lived that advice daily and indeed she was that very grace for so many people throughout her life.

So as we begin this celebration of thanksgiving for the life of Mary Frances, I now ask Sister Mary Kay to place the scriptures on Mary Frances’ casket, for she heard the Word of God, she staked her life upon it and received life to the full . . . the Word now beckons Mary Frances home.

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