Italian-born Father Nicholas Apollonio, 33, gave up on God after a family tragedy, but God never gave up on him.
“Christ came into my life to look for me,” he said. “He changed my life, and now I know that He is real and true.”
A native of Trieste, Italy, he is the eldest of two children born to Christiana Winter and the late Mauro Apollonio. His home parish is the Basilica Cathedral of San Giusto Martire.
He attended public elementary school, went to high school at the Liceo Scientifico Galileo Galilei, and worked in construction as a bricklayer before entering the seminary in 2007.
He graduated from Redemptoris Mater Seminary of Newark, N.J., and earned a master in divinity degree from the Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J.
Growing up, Father Apollonio had a happy childhood, until a tragic event turned his life upside down.
“When I was six years old, we were on vacation and my father had an aneurysm, a hemorrhage in his brain, which almost killed him,” he recalled.
His father never fully recovered his health. Eventually his parents divorced and fell away from the church. Filled with anger, the future priest made sense of these events by deciding that God must not exist.
He lived with this mindset as he grew up, went to school and started working.
“I had this emptiness inside. I was carrying all this suffering alone,” he said.
At that point, he kept his distance from the world, but he held onto one friend from high school. The young man had a very different upbringing than his own with lots of siblings and a close connection to the church. Through the witness of this family’s love, faith and unity, he saw the presence of God.
He eventually went with them to catechesis at their parish with the Neocatechumenal Way, a charism within the Catholic Church dedicated to formation and evangelization.
“In my sins, in my mess, in my poverty, in my hatred, it was the first time in my life that someone announced to me the love of God. Nobody ever told me God loves you,” he said.
Walking with this community of believers, he was able to grow and mature in the faith. He came to understand that God never abandoned him or his family; God was there with them amid their suffering.
“Little by little, I rediscovered, and am still rediscovering, the immense love God has for me, and also for my family,” he said.
Father Apollonio reconciled with God and put his pain at the foot of the cross. Relieved of that burden, he was able to open his heart to God’s will for his life.
He prayed, read the Bible and when he went to World Youth Day, he stood up when the youth were asked if any of them thought they had a vocation.
After further discerning his call at a vocation center, he attended a retreat with other prospective seminarians from the Neocatechumenal Way and expressed his willingness to go anywhere in the world to serve as a priest.
By lottery, he was chosen to go to Redemptoris Mater in New Jersey and be formed for the priesthood in Brooklyn.
“The amazing thing about Brooklyn,” he said, “is that it’s very international, all kinds of people.“
He completed pastoral assignments in the Brooklyn Diocese at St. Gabriel Church, East Elmhurst; St. Benedict Joseph Labre Church, Richmond Hill; and Regina Pacis Basilica, Bensonhurst, where he served his diaconate year.
As part of his formation, he completed a two-year evangelization mission in Minnesota with other members of the Neocatechumenal Way. They lived on divine providence, relying on God for everything from a place to stay to their daily meals, and even gas money for their car.
“It helps a lot for the priesthood to rely on God, not on yourself, and to see God provide every time,” he said.
Fluent in Italian, English and Spanish, he is also trying to learn Chinese so that he can spread the Word to more people. He hopes to be a humble priest, to announce the love of God and to support the vocation of family life.
His mother, young sister Theresa and more than 55 members of the Neocatechumenal Way are expected to attend his ordination. Father Giorgio Carnelos, his former pastor, will vest him.
Father Apollonio will celebrate his First Mass of thanksgiving at Regina Pacis Basilica, on Sunday, June 4 at 2 p.m.