Before Mass, Msgr. Apoldite spends time with his family, including his older brother, Drew; nephews Dan and Matt Apoldite, and grandniece, Lena.
Before Mass, Msgr. Apoldite spends time with his family, including his older brother, Drew; nephews Dan and Matt Apoldite, and grandniece, Lena.
The number of people who wanted to see Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., formally confer papal honors on Msgr. Dennis A. Apoldite spoke for itself. 

“My brother is well loved,” said Msgr. Apoldite’s older brother, Drew, pointing to the more than 400 people from around the Diocese who filled the pews for the Vigil Mass in Sacred Heart Church, Trenton, March 5. After Mass, they gathered in the lower church hall where long rows of tables were set up for a celebratory dinner. 

Photo Gallery: Papal Award presented to Msgr. Apoldite

As many observed, the turnout was a testimony of the respect and esteem in which Msgr. Apoldite is held by his flock at Sacred Heart Parish, as well as by colleagues from the Diocesan Chancery and other ministries he has conducted during his 44 years of priesthood. Also joining in the celebration were representatives from the wider community, especially organizations in which Msgr. Apoldite has been active in the Greater Trenton area.

“What a special celebration Saturday night was for Msgr. Dennis Apoldite!” said Tom Mladenetz, executive director of the Mercer County CYO. “My wife and I enjoyed it tremendously along with several CYO board members. This papal honor for Msgr. Dennis is so well deserved.”

Mladenetz reflected back to about 30 years ago when he first met then-Father Apoldite who, as a young priest, served his first term on the CYO board of trustees and Mladenetz was just beginning his tenure as executive director. Father Apoldite was a board member until he was named pastor of St. Mary Parish, Middletown, and then he returned to serve as secretary of the CYO board years later.

“We are thrilled to have Msgr. Dennis on our team again,” he said, adding that Msgr. Apoldite has celebrated the Opening Day Mass for the CYO  basketball season many times and “he has a gift of connecting so well with our young student athletes.” Msgr. Apoldite also coordinates a Christmas giving program through Sacred Heart Parish for the inner-city children in the CYO After School Program and at the regular CYO meetings, “he is always supportive, practical and offers wise advice,” Mladenetz said.

Recalling that he and Msgr. Apoldite “shared a mentor” in the late Msgr. Leonard Toomey, the longtime pastor of Sacred Heart and the founding director of the Mercer County CYO, Mladenetz said, “We both know Msgr. Toomey was smiling from heaven on Saturday evening.”

Msgr. Apoldite has been pastor since 2007 of Sacred Heart Parish, which holds the distinction of being the oldest parish in New Jersey. He also currently serves as episcopal vicar of Mercer County. Then-Father Apoldite was named a Chaplain of His Holiness with the title of “Monsignor” in October. Bishop O’Connell officially announced the appointment Nov. 29, and he presented Msgr. Apoldite with the formal papal document during the March 5 Mass of Thanksgiving.

The distinction of Chaplain of His Holiness has been conferred on priests since the 15th century in recognition of their special service and fidelity of the Church. With his new designation, Msgr. Apoldite became a member of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household, which includes the papal chapel and the papal family. As members of the papal family, monsignors are included in the Pontifical Yearbook, Annuario Pontifico, an official directory of the Holy See.

“What a joy it is to celebrate this honor with you and your parish community,” Bishop O’Connell said.

The Mass included participation by members of Msgr. Apoldite’s family who presented the gifts of bread and wine, and members of the Diocese’s only Knights of St. John International commandery led the entrance procession and then formed an honor guard down the center aisle as altar servers, deacons, some 25 concelebrating priests and the Bishop made their way to the sanctuary. The selection of hymns reflected the multicultural communities that make up Sacred Heart Parish -- African, African-American, Polish and Anglo. The combined voices and instrumentalists from the parish’s two choirs as well as those from the Capital Singers of Trenton, led in the singing of the hymns that also included one in Italian, which reflected Msgr. Apoldite’s heritage.

After Holy Communion, Bishop O’Connell and Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, diocesan vicar general, presented the framed papal document that was inscribed in Latin to Msgr. Apoldite, to which the congregation joyfully responded with a prolonged standing ovation. 

A “deeply humbled” Msgr. Apoldite stood at the ambo as he addressed his parishioners, expressing appreciation to the Holy Father for bestowing the honor, which he regards as a “reflection of yourselves and what you have made me” as a priest and pastor.  

“For that I am deeply grateful to our loving Father for the gifts he has given to me and I ask for your forgiveness for the gifts I never used,” he said.

Speaking about his “great relationship” with Bishop O’Connell, Msgr. Apoldite made the point that he views the Promise of Obedience, which a priest makes to his Bishop at ordination, not in the “discipline” sense of the word, but as a priest’s way of “listening to God through our Bishop.” 

To his brother-priests, Msgr. Apoldite said that while the “Holy Father recognizes one priest by name” such as he did with his papal honor, “each of you share in this honor because we have one priesthood. When one priest hurts, we all hurt and when one priest celebrates, we all celebrate. 

“Thank you for all of your great love and support and for always being there for me,” he said. 

Looking to the numerous family members and relatives seated in the pews reserved for them, Msgr. Apoldite spoke of how “very special” they are and noted that for at least half of them, he’s celebrated their Baptisms, Marriages, Sacrament of the Sick and “even the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” He’s also celebrated the funeral Masses for family members including his own parents, Andy and Lena, and younger brother, Jerry. 

Ellie Ancrum Ingbritsen, who currently serves as parish trustee in Sacred Heart, warmly reflected on having met Msgr. Apoldite more than 25 years ago at Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, where she was a teacher, and he was the school chaplain. 

“I would describe him as a man of few words. However, when he speaks and leads, he does so in a thoughtful, pastoral manner that comes from the heart,” said Ingbritesen, who currently serves with Msgr. Apoldite on the board of trustees for Mercer County CYO. 

“I am so happy for him and for Sacred Heart Parish,” she said. “He follows in a great tradition of monsignors who have been pastors of the first Catholic parish in New Jersey.”

At first, Matt Apoldite said he was proud of his uncle for receiving a papal award.  

"But then again I’ve always been proud of him,” he said. As for the new title, Matt added that, “Whether he’s a Monsignor or a Father, he’s always going to be Uncle Dennis to me first. Always.”