By Jessica Easthope
Father Nicholas Apollonio is the new pastor at St. Gabriel’s Parish in East Elmhurst. His friend and predecessor, Father Gioacchino Basile was small in stature but left big shoes to fill.
“Father Gioacchino was very small but he had an enormous heart,” said Father Apollonio. “He was a holy priest, he loved the people, he was with them until the very end.”
Father Gioacchino’s life was tragically cut short by COVID-19 back in April. Now, Father Apollonio is continuing his legacy in the very church where Father Gioacchino contracted the deadly virus. When he became pastor, Father Apollonio was also made chaplain of Mount Sinai Hospital in Brooklyn, which has grown his passion for helping the sickest in the community. His fear of the virus has taken a backseat to being there for his parishioners.
“He sent me here and He will help me on my mission,” he said. “He accompanies the one He sends and I hope I can follow in Gioacchino’s footsteps.”
Like Father Gioacchino, Father Apollonio is serving alongside St. Gabriel parish’s Parochial Vicar, Father Bob Sadlack who says the parish lost a spiritual father and bright light who had big dreams for the church.
“He’s left a legacy here of humility,” said Father Sadlack, “a love for the people more than anything else and also to announce the love of God to all of us through art and architecture he really had a plan to refurbish the church.”
The men say Father Gioacchino would want them to continue to focus on the people of East Elmhurst, a community ravaged by the pandemic. After Mass, Father Apollonio spends a good part of his day in confessions listening and advising those who have been through so much.
“It has not been easy and I’ve seen a lot of suffering and death in the homes of people, but the Lord was there, Jesus Christ was present,” he said.
With Masses resuming at St. Gabriel’s, Father Apollonio can continue Father Gioacchino’s work of ministering directly to his people. He’s also making sure that renovations to the church are being done just how the late-Father Gioacchino wanted it.