Fr. Matthew is a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and currently serves as Parish Priest in a rural parish in the English Midlands. He is also a school chaplain and is passionate about ministry with young people. Fr. Matthew is the author of Building the Kingdom in the Classroom, which details his experiences of ministry in schools.
I, like so many others, was saddened to hear of the death of Fr. Andrew Apostoli on Dec. 13.
I met him when he was delivering a retreat for some Sisters of the Renewal in 2015 at Mater Ecclesiae convent in my parish. The parish is a bit of a rural backwater and so having someone well-known visiting created some excitement. I was extremely privileged to concelebrate with him each day at Mass and listen to a number of his wonderful talks, which were given faultlessly and without notes. It was an amazing opportunity to sit at the feet of one of the greatest modern teachers of the faith. He exuded a real sense of holiness and peace which was rooted in his humility. One of the great characteristics of Fr. Apostoli was that he really gave the impression that he was interested in people and that they were important to him. I noticed this in the care and attention that he showed to parishioners whom he greeted at the end of each Mass.
Fr. Apostoli represents a new beginning in my own ministry. I had said the Mass on one of the days of the retreat and he had preached. Afterward in the sacristy he asked me if I had ever thought of writing as part of my ministry. I told him that I hadn’t and that writing had never been something that I felt particularly called too or interested in. Fr. Apostoli then asked to have some time to chat with me on the following day, which because of his generosity, turned into an almost three-hour meeting! I was captivated throughout.
During our time together he spoke about his own faith and life as a priest and then suggested that I could write an article about Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a person and cause very close to Fr. Apostoli’s own heart. This turned into an interview about Fr. Andrew’s work and ministry in promoting the cause of Archbishop Fulton Sheen as Vice Postulator. It was my first interview to be published.
Fr. Apostoli spoke honestly about his early life and the development of his own sense of vocation. He also shared with great warmth his love for Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who had ordained him, and the personal frustration and sadness that he felt when the process of his caused halted. As I look back on my notes from that interview, I can see how much Fr. Apostoli was influenced by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, especially in the way this led to working with Fr. Groeschel in the formation of the Friars of the Renewal:
I remember being influenced when reading Sheen’s book, ‘The Priest is Not His Own,’ before my ordination. Sheen spoke at my ordination about of the image of priesthood becoming blurred. He said boys don’t want to be priests anymore. He told us that if anything was to restore the Church and bring salvation it was a renewal of the priesthood. This kept coming back to me over the next 20 or so years. I became consciously aware that if the renewal of priesthood was key. I hardly did any work with priests. I had been involved in the formation of sisters and brothers but did nothing with priests. Eighteen years after ordination, I met Fr. Benedict Groeschel, a Capuchin whilst attending one of his courses. We became good friends and I offered to help on his retreats for priests. Several months later he called me up and asked if I could help as he was due to have heart bypass surgery. He was due to run a retreat for 104 priests and two bishops. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! At the retreat I told the priests that some retreat directors are in the Who’s Who and some are in the “Who’s That?.” I was certainly in the latter.Fr. Benedict had some good feedback and we began working closely together. Some brothers started thinking and praying about renewal and that is where it all started.
Fulton Sheen is not that well-known in the U.K. and my meeting with Fr. Apostoli introduced me to many of the great bishop’s writings and broadcasts. I have found these inspirational and challenging and have Fr. Apostoli to thank for that.
Fr. Apostoli had an influence upon such a diverse range of people and his writings and broadcasts have been treasured because of his easy, direct and down-to-earth style. This, coupled with the great ministry of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Renewal, makes Fr. Andrew Apostoli one of the most significant priests of modern time.
I am certainly grateful for my encounter with him and have continued writing articles and books ever since. He concluded his interview by talking about his hope that Fulton Sheen’s cause would move forward again. Fr. Apostoli ended by saying, “He will be canonized, but how and when?” It will be a great tribute to Fr. Andrew Apostoli when that day finally comes.