By Pat Knopick and Jan Pullela
For The Catholic Messenger
Becoming a priest was not young Apo Mpanda’s initial vocation choice. He was raised in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by loving parents, the second of five children. His parents became Catholic after attending the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and were strong in their faith. They passed that faith onto their children.
Apo wanted to be a medical doctor. Growing up in the Congo, it was expected that he would marry and have a family like the one he grew up in. But in his junior year of high school, while attending an evening youth Mass with a friend, he was touched by the homily and talked with his pastor afterward. Apo decided that he wanted to be a priest. When he discussed this with his parents, they were very happy, but his grandmother was not. She knew of his desire to be a doctor and had not heard him talk before about being a priest. She tried to discourage him from that vocation. But Apo persisted.
He attended the Catholic University of the Congo, was educated by the Jesuits and ordained to the priesthood July 31, 1988, the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He was grateful to those who had encouraged him in his discernment: his parents, parish priest and priest teachers.
Father Apo served as principal of a high school in the Congo for his first assignment as a Josephite priest. His religious community emphasized education. In 1991, he was assigned to a local parish as pastor. He furthered his studies at the Jesuit Heythrop College/University of London in England.
At about that time, the Josephites were getting smaller in number and beginning to disband. Each member needed to make a decision: join another order, leave religious life or become a diocesan priest. In London, Fr. Apo wrote to Bishop William Franklin of the Diocese of Davenport. A meeting was arranged between Fr. Apo and then-Father Drake Shafer, who was serving at St. Ambrose University at the time.
Fr. Apo was invited to come for two weeks to the Davenport Diocese where he stayed with the late Msgr. Marvin Mottet.
He felt warmly welcomed in the diocese and was grateful when Bishop Franklin assigned him as a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Victory Parish and Sacred Heart Cathedral, both in Davenport. He taught French at John F. Kennedy and Sacred Heart Catholic schools. In 2002, he was appointed pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in West Point and St. Boniface in Farmington. He has served as pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport and priest moderator of St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass since 2010.
Moving across the world to settle in a new land had its challenges. But Fr. Apo is happy with his vocation choice and his adopted country. He loves to celebrate Mass, pray and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“My parishioners have helped me so much in my life and in serving the community,” he says. The highlights of Fr. Apo’s priesthood are his trip to the Holy Land and celebration of his 25th and 30th anniversaries as a priest. At the time of his 25th anniversary, his parish adopted St. John the Baptist Parish in his homeland. The parish there has built a church named St. Antoine in honor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport and is in the process of building a small school.
Fr. Apo said he is grateful for all the blessings God has bestowed on him through many friends and people of the Davenport Diocese.
(Pat Knopick and Jan Pullela are members of the Sacred Heart Vocation Committee at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.)