NEW YORK — Franciscan Father Andrew Apostoli, EWTN host of Sunday Night Prime and a founder of the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, died Wednesday at age 75, after a battle with cancer during the last several months.
His death came the morning after the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patroness of the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Every friar is consecrated to her under this title.
“Father Andrew conformed his life to Christ’s,” said Father John Paul Ouellete, community servant (superior) of the Friars of the Renewal, upon Father Apostoli’s death. “As a priest, he was led by his relationship with the Holy Spirit, Our Lady and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, and continually worked toward the renewal of the priesthood.”
“As a Franciscan, St. Francis was the clear inspiration for his humility, humor and his simplicity in word and deed,” he added. “Father Andrew’s faithfulness and joy urge us to live the joy found in the Gospel.”
Father Apostoli was known to EWTN viewers who welcomed him into their homes for almost 25 years. This year marked his golden anniversary as a priest. He was ordained a priest to the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin March 16, 1967, at St. Francis de Sales Church in Geneva, New York, by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
By 2001, Father Apostoli became an authority on Archbishop Sheen’s works and served as the vice postulator of the archbishop’s cause for canonization, on which he worked until his final illness. He called the media-savvy priest, who was declared “Venerable” by the Church in 2012, his “father in Christ.”
Father Apostoli was one of eight Capuchin friars who founded the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFR) in New York City in 1987. A year later, he also founded the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal.
Although frequently on the road giving retreats, parish missions and talks, as well as leading pilgrimages, he was based at two friaries in Yonkers, New York, not far from where he grew up.
Born July 3, 1942, in Woodbury, New Jersey, Joseph Dominic Apostoli was the second of four sons born to Dominic and Malvina Apostoli. He took the name Andrew when he became a professed religious.
A seemingly tireless priest, he taught for 28 years at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York, was the CFR superior in the 1990s, and served as spiritual director for various apostolates.
Father Apostoli wrote more than 10 books. His most recent book, Answering the Questions of Jesus, was published by EWTN Publishing in 2016. His book on celibacy and chastity, When God Asks for an Undivided Heart: Choosing Celibacy in Love and Freedom, has been used in formation at various religious communities.
Perhaps his most-sought-after book is his 2012 definitive work on Fatima titled Fatima for Today. The subtitle — The Urgent Marian Message of Hope — sums up his years of dedication to spreading Our Lady’s messages. He made the last of his many pilgrimages to Fatima over the years as recently as May to mark the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions.
Father Apostoli is survived by his brothers, Emidio and Michael; their wives, Gretchen and Beth; his sister-in-law Yvonne; four nephews and two nieces; as well as 128 brothers and priests and 35 sisters of the community. He was predeceased by his brother Francis.
Father Andrew began hosting the weekly Sunday Night Prime in October 2012, succeeding Father Benedict Groeschel, another CFR co-founder, whose health no longer permitted him to continue. By that time, Father Apostoli was already known to EWTN audiences, as he first appeared on Mother Angelica Live in July 1993. This initial appearance led to his hosting 18 series, running from 1995 through 2009. Three were on the Holy Spirit, with three on Our Lady and two each on Archbishop Sheen and St. Padre Pio.
“All of us at EWTN are saddened by the loss of our dear friend Father Andrew Apostoli, CFR,” said Michael Warsaw, EWTN’s chairman and CEO. “Father Andrew was a constant presence on the network for nearly 25 years, particularly as the host of Sunday Night Prime for the past five years. We always looked forward to his many visits to Irondale to produce programs. He was such a kind and holy man who always brought joy to the EWTN family and who was a constant witness to the Franciscan spirit. We will certainly miss him.”
EWTN’s president and chief operating officer, Doug Keck, also remembered fondly the humble friar.
“Father Andrew started out as that priest who looked like Father Benedict Groeschel’s twin when he showed up on the Mother Angelica Live show for the first time,” he said. “That didn’t last long, as Father Andrew quickly established his own personal teaching style on topics ranging from the Holy Spirit to Our Lady of Fatima, finally taking over Sunday Night Prime.”
“I had the pleasure of interviewing him many times over the years on my Bookmark program,” Keck added, characterizing Father Apostoli as “always insightful and incredibly gentle in his treatment of the faith and the faithful. He stood for truth like his mentor, Bishop Sheen, and like Sheen, he will be dearly missed but fondly remembered.”
Warsaw shared one story that reflected Father Apostoli’s whimsical side.
“Father Andrew always got a laugh out of the fact that people would confuse him with Father Benedict Groeschel, and he would frequently tell hilarious stories of running into people who were so excited to meet him, thinking, of course, that he was Father Benedict. This happened so often that the network actually created a promotional campaign around this mistaken identity, famously noting that ‘one of these is Father Benedict Groeschel and the other is not.’ True to form, Father Andrew loved it.”
David Carollo, executive director of the World Apostolate of Fatima, who appeared several times on Father Apostoli’s show, fondly remembers the Franciscan priest’s great devotion to the mission of promoting the messages of Our Lady of Fatima over the years. He did so on four occasions at the Blue Army Shrine in Asbury, New Jersey, in 2017 alone.
Suffering as he was during this last year with a decline in health due to cancer, Father Apostoli celebrated the official 100th anniversary Oct. 13 at the shrine. He even walked with pilgrims in the Eucharistic procession.
“At one point, he had to stop and sit for a few minutes,” Carollo said. “He was exhausted, but gave a smile and said that he hoped to complete the procession. I believe that his guardian angel finished it on his behalf. This is the last time that Father Andrew visited us at the Blue Army Shrine. How fitting that it was on the centenary anniversary of the ‘Miracle of the Sun.’”
“This apostolate has had no better friend, and in my life I have had few friends that have inspired me as much as he did,” Carollo said. He explained how watching Father Apostoli interact with people with his “urban street smarts,” blended with his great devotion for saving souls, helped Carollo learn to view people in a different light.
“He had the patience of a saint,” Carollo noted. “He was down-to-earth, a true servant of the people. All could see genuine concern for them in him.”
The executive director of the World Apostolate of Fatima remembered another attribute of the humble Franciscan.
“He never knew the word ‘No,’” Carollo pointed out. “There was nothing that you could ask of him that he did not try to fulfill.”
One of the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, based in the Bronx, New York, agreed.
“One thing that stands out for all of the sisters is he never said ‘No’ to us,” explained one sister, acting as spokeswoman for the congregation, noting that their connection to the CFRs and their friendship goes back to the 1970s. “Mother (Teresa) met him and told him, ‘Take care of my sisters.’ For him, that was a major thing. He laughed about that and said, ‘I can’t say No.’ He never said ‘No’ whenever I asked him for something. Even last year, sick as he was, he came to give talks to the sisters about the Year of Mercy and Our Lady of Fatima.”
Sister recalled a day when no priest was available to celebrate Mass. She called on Father Apostoli: “As busy as he was, he did come for Mass.”
The Missionaries of Charity spokeswoman well remembers that although he wore the big Franciscan rosary from his cincture, he “would pull out of his pocket a small one and say, ‘This is Mother’s rosary, and I carry it with me all the time.’ That was a treasure for him — to have a rosary that Mother [Teresa] touched and held.”
A treasure for them was his book on Fatima, which the sisters used as a preparation and study guide for the centennial. The sister said they see this devotion to Fatima, coupled with the centennial celebration and also joined with his golden jubilee during the same year, as “Our Lady preparing him to come home.”
Something else about Father Apostoli was always at the forefront. As the Missionaries of Charity sister explained, “He was so joyful. We have good memories of his sense of humor and joy. He was a happy priest and said we had to keep a sense of humor.”
Many times, he would draw a spiritual lesson from a daily situation, the sister said, relating how he told the sisters what happened to him upon leaving an exhibit about St. Francis at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A poor man sitting on the steps asked if he was “for real or part of the show?”
Father Apostoli told the sister that question made him examine himself, and he made the point that it’s a question we all have to confront.
“He was totally for real,” the sister emphasized. “He was 100% authentic and a great friar for the renewal.”
As another of the CFR founders, Franciscan Father Glenn Sudano knew Father Apostoli before the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal were formed. He remembered how Father Andrew, as he calls his fellow founder, worked with Father Groeschel at Trinity Retreat House doing priest retreats. And before that he was a high-school religion teacher.
“He was a very good preacher — not in a dynamic way, like with Fulton Sheen dynamism, but he had a sincerity and simplicity in his preaching. He was very calming and very clear, easy to follow and soothing — not just on the ear, but on the soul,” recalled Father Sudano. “He had deep devotion and deep knowledge. He was able to articulate the faith in a very simple way and spoke to people in very Capuchin ‘blue-collar preaching,’ certainly always speaking the truth with a certain clarity — and always charity.”
Pointing out his great love for Our Lady and devotion to Venerable Fulton Sheen, Father Sudano said that it was “always irresistible” for Father Apostoli to reference a quote from Archbishop Sheen. “He always seasoned his conferences and the like with quotes from Fulton Sheen.”
“He was a very gentle man and gentle in his approach; praying the Rosary and a Holy Hour were two of the poles of his spiritual life,” Father Sudano added. “He had a great love of the religious life. He was a clear teacher, effective preacher and a very gentle man with a sense of humor” — a model of the Capuchin Franciscan way of life.
Author and EWTN host Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle remembers Father Apostoli as a wonderful holy priest and a dear friend, referring to “his great humility and selfless love, which seemed to abundantly flow from his gentle heart.”
“Father Andrew was a very generous soul, with a peaceful demeanor, mirroring Jesus. I believe that he lived his life under the mantle of Mother Mary, to whom he was deeply devoted,” she told the Register.
She said the Franciscan priest affected her life in profound ways.
“We enjoyed many meaningful spiritual discussions over the years, and I have always been edified by his words and blessings,” she said. “I have felt a blessed closeness with him — sometimes as my brother in Christ and at other times as a loving father figure to me.”
O’Boyle said he had a saintly concern for everyone.
“Selfless Father Andrew was unceasingly concerned about souls, the well-being of others and what he could do to help — whether it was in praying for them, offering a kind word or making a prayerful sacrifice,” she explained.
She believes God allowed him to suffer redemptively during this 100th anniversary year of Our Lady of Fatima because he willingly offered his suffering for God’s glory and people’s good.
A guest of Father Apostoli on Sunday Night Prime several times, O’Boyle cherishes the beautiful lengthy and descriptive blessings that he bestowed upon her. She said his blessings “were so powerful that I could almost feel Mother Mary place her holy mantle upon me.”
On one visit with him in his final days, as they discussed spiritual matters, she said she was much moved when he, in the course of his constant pain, assured her “that he would fully trust Our Lord.”
“Father Andrew was such a bright beacon of light to our darkened world,” she observed.
For now, countless men and women who loved him and learned from him will pray for his peaceful repose — and heed his tireless teaching. As he said in his last major talk at the centennial celebration at the World Apostolate of Fatima Shrine on Oct. 13, “[G]et to know these messages and to live them. The spark you will find in Fatima will be that knowing that Our Lady came and asked for this — that she wants this. She’s our mother. So let’s not say ‘No.’ Let’s say a big ‘Yes’ to what Mary has asked of us, so that we can offer reparation not only for our own personal sins and the sins of our family members and friends, but also for the conversion of those who are very far from God.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.