GREENVILLE—Over the past 25 years, Father Wilbroad Mwape’s work has taken him from his home nation of Zambia to all corners of the United States.
His work has included everything from serving as a pastor to promoting vocations, running a Catholic radio station, and comforting the sick as a hospital chaplain. In August, he started a new phase of his priesthood as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church.
As he prepares to celebrate his 25th jubilee, Father Mwape said he has been able to accept every new assignment because of a Scripture passage that is the foundation of his priesthood. It is John 2:5, when at the wedding at Cana the Blessed Mother tells the wedding guests “Do whatever He tells you.”
“That for me is what priesthood is all about,” Father Mwape said. “If I can only do what Jesus tells me to do, I will be happy.”
He heard Christ’s call to a vocation as a child in Zambia, where he was raised in a devout Catholic family in the town of Mufulira. His parents, John Mwape and the late Goretti Mwape, made sure that their six children were active in their local parish.
Father Mwape also observed the work of the missionary priests who served in the area, both Franciscan Friars and members of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa, also known as the “White Fathers.”
“It gave me inspiration when I saw how hard they worked and how they had learned to speak our language, which is called Bemba,” he said. “I thought if they can do that, I too can become a priest and speak and teach my people.”
During high school, he also felt called to join his country’s Air Force and didn’t know how to choose. At graduation, he decided he would follow whatever calling responded to his applications first. The seminary won out, and he realized God was calling him to be a priest.
After completing seminary, he was ordained on Oct. 7, 1995, by Bishop Dennis De Jong of the Diocese of Ndola. For the next five years, he served as a parochial vicar and pastor in parishes and also worked to promote vocations in the diocese.
In 2000, his life changed when his bishop sent him to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, to complete a master’s degree in philosophy. It was his first time in the United States, and while Father Mwape studied, he said he also received a crash course in American culture and experienced cold weather and snow for the first time in his life.
While there, he decided to become a board certified chaplain for hospitals, and came to South Carolina in 2002 to complete work in clinical pastoral education at Bon Secours Hospital in Charleston. He also served as administrator at St. Joseph Church from 2002 until early 2004, and then completed his chaplain certification in Kansas City, Missouri.
Father Mwape returned to South Carolina and served as a chaplain at Providence Hospital in Columbia from 2004-2007, while also serving as a supply priest at St. Peter Church.
He returned to Zambia in early 2008 to lead a minor seminary, and also manage a Catholic radio station. He then served as a campus chaplain at Zambia Catholic University from 2011-13 before
applying to come back to the Diocese of Charleston in December 2013. Since then he has served as parochial vicar at St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton, and administrator at Holy Trinity Church in Orangeburg, where he also served St. Andrew in Barnwell, St. Mary in Allendale, and St. Theresa Mission in Springfield. He has also been incardinated into the Diocese of Charleston.
Deacon Gary Janelle was ordained while Father Mwape was at Holy Trinity and worked with him there. He said the priest taught him about service and holiness.
“Father Will is one of the most holy priests that I’ve ever met in my life,” Deacon Janelle said. “From the time he kisses the altar at the beginning of Mass until the end, he embodies Christ.”
Deacon Janelle said Father Mwape also revitalized many ministries and organizations at Holy Trinity, plus led an effort to build a new sacristy for the church and start a comprehensive youth ministry.
“He was a joy to be around and he empowered us all to do so much as a parish,” Deacon Janelle said.
Father Mwape said he already feels welcomed at his new parish in Greenville and looks forward to whatever the future brings there. A Mass of Thanksgiving was planned for Oct. 7 to commemorate his jubilee.
“There have been some challenges, but I have completely enjoyed priesthood,” he said. “My goal wherever I am is to be a beacon of hope, love, peace and justice, and to help the people I serve do the same.”