Four priests celebrate 50 years with golden jubilees

Father Nicholas Capetola.

Friends and family celebrate and honor four priests this year, each of whom has served the people of God for 50 years through their various ministries.

Adorno Fathers Nicholas Capetola and Frank Palmieri, Father Robert Vogt, and Trappist Father Feliciano Manalili were all ordained in 1962 and mark their golden jubilees this year.

Three of the men spoke to The Miscellany about the priesthood and the celebration of their vocation.

Father Nicholas Capetola, CRM

Father Nicholas Capetola. His current role as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Goose Creek marks the second time that the priest has led the diverse parish.

Father Nicholas was first assigned to the area in June 1989, shortly before Hurricane Hugo struck. At the time,  Goose Creek was a fledgling city with a small Catholic population worshipping in borrowed space.

Calling on his 27 years of experience, including an assignment as procurator general of the Adornos, Father Nicholas led his flock on a fundraising campaign and construction of their own church. He served Immaculate Conception until 1996 and returned in 2009.

The priest said his call to religious life started at an early age, when he played soccer with the seminarians in his hometown in Italy.

He was only 14 when he entered Minor Seminary, and Father Nicholas recalled that his mother was worried because he didn’t like soup. The rector reassured her with a smile, saying, “He will learn.”

It was one of many lessons, including philosophy, Latin, and how to get along in a foreign country.

When Father Nicholas and other Adornos first came to America in 1958 to study theology at St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, Pa., they didn’t speak any English, even though all their classes were taught in that language. It was a difficult time, he said.

After his ordination in Newark, N.J., the priest spent time at parishes in that state, including an appointment as superior of his order in Lodi. He also served as superior at their new seminary in the Philippines from 2000-2006.

Since his first days at Immaculate Conception, the parish has grown from 300 families to about 2,500, he said. Parishioners there threw a wonderful fete in May honoring his ordination.

Father Nicholas also celebrated a birthday, turning 76 recently. He said he is ready to retire from administrative duty; to turn it over to the church’s young people so he can concentrate on things he’s never had a chance to do.

“I’d like to dedicate myself to something that has eluded me; I’d like to spend a little more time with the elderly and sick people in the parish,” he said.

Even when the elderly are incapacitated by dementia or Alzheimer’s and don’t recognize those around them, the collar reminds them of church and God, Father Nicholas explained.

“When they see the priest their faith comes out, especially when you offer the Blessed Sacrament. It’s wonderful to see,” he said.

Father Frank Palmieri, CRM

Father Frank Palmieri. Jesus Our Risen Savior in Spartanburg has been home to Father Frank since 2009. They will host his Jubilee Mass on Dec. 21, followed by a reception. The parish is also planning a big celebration sometime in November.

Father Frank said he would have been ordained in May with Father Nicholas, but there was a problem: His order requires ordained priests to be 24, and Father Frank’s birthday wasn’t until December. When his time came, there were no bishops available in the U.S. because they were all in Rome for the closing of Vatican II, so he ended up being ordained in the famous Italian square, Piazza Navona.

He said he still recalls how beautiful that day was.

Father Frank first came to South Carolina in 1996, when he took over where Father Nicholas left off in the growing parish of Immaculate Conception. He added to the rectory, created a green space on the grounds, and built a prayer garden and a two-story multi-purpose facility.

One of his best memories is working with the diverse cultures, including American, Filipino, Hispanic and Brazilian. He recalls celebrating the first Spanish Mass and how quickly everyone left when it was over, noting that there was no connection then. Now, he joked, the priest can’t make them leave.

Father Frank has a soft spot for immigrants to the country. He said he knows what it feels like to not understand anything anyone is saying. When he and Father Nicholas came to America in 1958, it took him about six months to understand and speak English. Laughing, he said he’s still working on being proficient.

He spent his first years as a priest working in parishes in New Jersey, and serving as superior there.

The Adorno said his favorite ministry has been with youth, joking that he has a kinship with them because young people are always getting in trouble.

Father Frank said he has always enjoyed parish life, whether big or small. Jesus Our Risen Savior is smaller, with a smaller Hispanic population, but he said they have a strong ownership of their church and are committed to seeing it grow.

Since he doesn’t want to retire, Father Frank said he hopes to see other plans come to fruition at the church.

As for him, that’s up to God.

“I never, never made a plan for me,” he said. “Whatever happened happened, and it came from the Lord, who knew much better than me.”

Father Robert Vogt

Father Robert Vogt. Ordained in the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., Father Vogt received faculties as a supply priest in 2004 and has served numerous churches in the Diocese of Charleston.

His main parish has been Our Lady, Star of the Sea in North Myrtle Beach, where — despite his limitations — he still helps celebrate Mass with Father Anthony Droze, pastor.

Donna Kropidlowski, a longtime friend of Father Vogt, said the priest has suffered several strokes over the last year and is now in a wheelchair and has difficulty speaking. She answered questions for him during a recent interview.

“It’s hard to see him so quiet,” she said, noting that the priest was always very social and active. “If 10 people invited him to an event, he’d go to them all.”

Mrs. Kropidlowski, her husband Hank, and Father Vogt came south for the first time on vacation in the ’70s and fell in love with the area. They made plans to retire here, and now all share a house and “take care of each other” she said.

The three first met in New York, where Father Vogt served as a parish priest until his retirement in 2000.

Father Vogt moved to Longs in 2004, when he formed an instant friendship with Father George Moynihan, pastor of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, who lost his battle with cancer that same year.

“The people there really came to love Father Bob [Vogt] and respect him because he was there at a critical point in their lives when they were losing a beloved pastor,” Mrs. Kropidlowski said.

For four years, the priest ran the roads of South Carolina, serving churches in Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Conway, Winnsboro and Blythewood, she said.

Now, his ability to serve is extremely limited, but Father Vogt still attends Knights of Columbus meetings and spends four hours a day in prayer.

“He has a list of people he prays for every day, faithfully,” Mrs. Kropidlowski said.

She noted that Father Droze has been wonderful to the older priest, encouraging him to concelebrate Mass. She said Father Vogt is sad he can’t be more active, but his love of God and his ministry is still very evident, adding that her friend and pastor knew he wanted to be a priest from the time he was 4 years old and that desire has never waned.

Limitations didn’t prevent him from celebrating his March jubilee, not just once, but four times, with events at Our Lady, Star of the Sea and his home diocese of Buffalo.

“He’s had a great ride in the priesthood,” Mrs. Kropidlowski said. “He’s loved every minute of it. And even though it’s very hard for him right now, he still loves every minute of it. He gave it his all.”