Saint Paul's Monaco

Recollections of a Servant of the Church

by Maurice Ametis, Sacristan 1936-1993

Mme France Ametis, Sacristan Emeritus, with Bishop David Hamid, Suffragan in Europe
Madame France Ametis, Sacristan Emeritus,
with Bishop David Hamid, Suffragan in Europe, January 2011 

Marius Ametis, Sacristan 1898-1936

It was in 1898 that my father and my mother worked for Monsieur James Pile, an important 'Couturier', who had shops in London, in Paris in the Rue Cambron, and in the winter in Monte Carlo. This gentleman, very active in the affairs of St. Cyprian's Church, asked my father if he would look after the Church, and this is how he became the first sacristan of the Anglican Church in Monte Carlo.
 
The Church was situated in the Avenue de Villaine in Beausoleil, and was built completely of wood: it was demolished in 1914. It is a pity I have not been able to find a photograph of St. Cyprian's.

We were six children in our family, four girls and two boys, and from the ages of twelve or thirteen we all helped our father in the Church. First of all there were my sisters Josephine and Emma in 1910, and during the week they tidied and cleaned the Church, and on Sundays they worked the bellows of the organ with a big wooden lever. Furthermore, before the Church was pulled down they helped to move all the chairs and furniture into a cellar in the Avenue St. Michel that my father rented until the end of the 1914-1918 War. We then arranged a chapel in one of the rooms of the Grand Hotel, now the Palais de la Scala: this time it was the turn of Juliette and Madeleine to arrange things weekly before the building of St. Paul's. For a short time, however, the Chapel was in the Métropole.

When St. Paul's was built, Monsieur Pile had died, and his son lived in Paris and in London: the shop in Monte Carlo had been closed down. It was Mr. Bairstow, his wife, the Baroness d'Orczy, and Dr. Pryce Mitchell who took charge of the building of the Church, and who had the idea of building an apartment for my father so he could be on the premises. At that time we were only three children in the house, one boy and two girls, my two elder sisters having married. In the first days of St. Paul's it was Madeleine and Romeo who helped to clear up after the workpeople, and to give out the books and put the chairs between the pews at the beginning of the services: the Church was only open in the winter, but there were so many in the congregation that this had to be done, and they had to be taken away again at the end to allow the people to leave.

St Paul's circa 1970

Maurice & France Ametis (left) with Fr Brian Matthews, Chaplain; Bishop John Satterthwaite; and Wardens: Allan Wright and Desmond Mason. (c.1970)

Maurice Ametis, Sacristan 1936-1993

The children of our generation started work very young: I started to help my father in October 1930, Sundays at Church, and during the week I worked as an apprentice upholsterer at Evrard. All went well until March 1936, when unfortunately my father died in spite of all the efforts of Dr. Pryce Mitchell and another French doctor. It was very upsetting for all of us, in spite of the many kindnesses of everyone, but Mr. and Mrs. Tupper Carey, together with the Church Council, decided to tell my mother that Maurice would continue the work of his father: this was in April 1936. I was 19 years old, and it was a great responsibility for me, as I had to take care of any works needed doing at the Church, find the workpeople and get quotations, but life was easier at that time, as workpeople were proud of their work, and money was of less importance than nowadays.

The first month my brother Romeo came to help me on Sundays, but after that I was alone, and certainly very nervous, as all these important people frightened me. To name them now would take too long, but I can still see them and hear their voices: for them I was 'Little Maurice'.

Each Sunday there was a service at 8 a.m., 11a.m., and at 12 mid-day: in the afternoon from 3 p.m. till 4 p.m. for the French Protestants, and evensong at 6 p.m. Mr. and Mrs. Tupper Carey received one Thursday each month from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for tea. They had their cook, their housemaid and scullery maid, and I used to open the door, because there were always a lot of people for tea.
This went on until 1940, when nearly everyone had to leave on that terrible trip back to England, the 'coal-boat' trip. I used to open the Church on Sundays for the few people left who wished to worship. At that time it was left to Mr. and Mrs. R. Williams to look after the affairs of the Church, and it was on their initiative that we started to gather together some books for the people who stayed: together with the ones we already had, we opened St. Paul's Library on Saturday mornings, and I was put in charge of running it.

During the war it was Canon Dalbertanson of Beaulieu who had to come to take the services, but it was hard for him, as you had to have a special 'laissez-passer' to travel, and the means of travelling during the German occupation did not exist.
 
In 1946 things, bit by bit, started to revert to normal, and the first official vicar after the war was Mr. Meyler: he an his wife were already fairly old. They had a lot of problems, as the children of Mr. and Mrs. Tupper Carey had come to claim the furniture of their parents, and Mr. Williams bought second hand furniture to replace it. They stayed two years in Monte Carlo, and then went back to England with their two daughters. I must say at this point what they said about me: Maurice, my wife and I are going back, but I must tell you before leaving that during my life I have been in many churches, but only here have I had someone to look after us like you and France. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and we leave happy to entrust the Church to your care. Your words have often moved me, and I have always followed your advice.
 
Miss Thompson used to come and help me in the library, and so we opened on Wednesday afternoons and on Saturday mornings, and we succeeded in buying some new books as well.
 
Life in a Church is like life in a big family...there are good and there are bad times. I have forgotten the bad times, and only remembered the good ones: this has allowed me to look at the Church and its various priests with calmness and with serenity. There was one thing that was important so that France and I could live normally: I had to find a job where I could be free during the day, so I could look after the Church and the Library -- life was getting hard. I was lucky enough to find a job as night-porter in a hotel, so I had the day free, and could still earn my living. It was not all that easy, as I had the impression of being a servant of the Church during the day, and a servant of the Devil during the night. During the twenty eight years I was at the hotel I could write a book on my troubled nights, and this only on stories seen and heard. No matter though, in the mornings I went home to France who had breakfast waiting for me. I have now forgotten those nightmares and the tiredness -- to serve the Church is a vocation. I can remember being alone in the Church praying, and asking God to protect me, to steer and to guide me. "O Lord, each day I need you every minute: I beseech you, come and stay by my side." He has always helped me, even today, as he has allowed me the time to write these lines.
 
We were fortunate to have for twenty-five years the same priest, whose simplicity and kindness made me think of him as a member of my family, notwithstanding my respect for him as my superior-­the Reverend Brian Matthews. He did much to beautify the Church: it was he who took the initiative in re-doing the stained-glass windows of the Chapel. He had the marble columns made in front of the Chapel and the stained glass windows above the entry door of the Church: he added the radiators and covers at the back of the Church, the furniture at the entrance, the three first rows and Prie-Dieus, the carved footstools, the four large candelabra for funeral services, the four wrought iron stools, the four crystal vases, the silver-gilt vases and I forget how many other things: for Padre Matthews, his only concern was for the Church, and on that point we were both in complete agreement. It was his idea to get together all the Churches for the Ecumenical Kermesse. His departure was a great shock to France and to me, and even today we still think of him as only being on holiday: luckily he is not far away, and we can still see him from time to time.
 
In spite of my troubles, the Church has to continue, and I must not forget that my duty is to help his successors on arrival and during their stay, and to look after the Church, in other words, to serve God.
 
Before I finish these notes, let me tell you the lovely story of our organist, Mr. Lee, who lived in Menton Garavan. He wanted to know the days we cleaned the Church, and then he used to come and play the organ secretly to keep me company. He played such lovely pieces that sometimes we stopped working so we could listen. We were in our seventh heaven, and then he would ask us if we had enjoyed it. Certainly he is now playing the organ for the heavenly choirs, but France and I can still hear him.
 
I finish this story by thanking God for letting me finish my Jubilee, and for having kept me as faithful now as I was on my first day, and I thank all of you, too, who by your prayers, and by your help in different ways, have helped me to overcome the trials and tribulations I have come through.. my greatest pleasure has been to be with you.
 
Signed .. Your "Dear Maurice", as was my father in his time, "Dear Marius"
France Ametis.

France Ametis, Sacristan 1993-2009 (now Emeritus) 

In 1936 when Maurius Ametis passed away the role of Sacristan was passed to his son Maurice who faithfully served St Paul’s until 1993. Upon the death of Maurice, his widow France assumed all the duties and responsibilities of Sacristan. France came to St Paul’s shortly after her marriage to Maurice in 1944.

Together they worked, assisting various clergy, preparing the church for worship, maintaining the grounds and building welcoming people to services. St Paul’s owes a great debt of gratitude to the Ametis family for their service for more than 100 years, but that is not how France would say it. France says that it has always been her pleasure and her greatest joy to serve God and serve St Paul’s. She turned 90 years old in May 2010.