Father Appiah’s ‘lei’ ministry

Diocesan priest and military chaplain marks 25th anniversary of ordination

By Bill Brewer

Father John Appiah is a priest on a mission, and he’s happy to share that duty with anyone, whether he’s in Hawaii or Turkey.

The Diocese of Knoxville priest who is on assignment with the U.S. armed forces as a military chaplain returned to his home parish, St. Mary in Oak Ridge, on Aug. 23 to celebrate Mass on the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

Father Appiah stopped over in East Tennessee as he was being transferred from Hawaii, where he has been stationed with the Air Force for two years, to Turkey.

And he didn’t miss the opportunity to honor the people of Hawaii, especially in the wake of recent wildfires that decimated much of Maui. Summoning his military rank, Capt. Appiah issued a direct order to those participating in his anniversary Mass to wear colorful leis, the garland or wreath popular in Hawaii, Polynesia, and the Philippines synonymous with peace, love, friendship, and honor.

The “order” was warmly received by all who took part.

Priests and deacons are adorned in leis in solidarity with Father Appiah for his ordination anniversary.

Concelebrating the anniversary Mass were Father Ray Powell, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Oak Ridge; Father Bede Aboh, chaplain of the Catholic Center at East Tennessee State University; Father Mike Nolan, pastor of St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish in Cleveland; Father Michael Sweeney, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Harriman, St. Ann in Lancing, and St. Christopher in Jamestown; Father Michael Woods, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Fairfield Glade; Father Pontian Kiyimba, AJ, parochial administrator of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg and Church of the Good Shepherd in Newport; Father Mike Creson, who serves as a chaplain at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga and assists at St. Thérèse of Lisieux; Father Gilbert Diaz, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Seymour; Father Gerald Akata, who previously served in the Diocese of Knoxville and now serves in the Diocese of Ikot Ekpene, Nigeria; Father Tirso Villaverde, pastor of St. Julie Billiart Church in Tinley Park, Ill.; and Father Linh Nguyen, pastor of Sts. Francis & John Parish in Georgetown, Ky.

Deacon John DeClue assisted Father Appiah during the Mass, and also attending were Deacon Sean Smith, Diocese of Knoxville chancellor, and Deacon Vic Landa, who serves at Blessed Sacrament Parish.

Father Appiah, who was in seminary with Father Villaverde and Father Nguyen, looked forward to returning to his home parish to mark his vocation milestone and reconnect with friends, loved ones, and those who have supported his ministry.

“As I stand here, I have said goodbye to Hawaii, and I’m on my way to Turkey,” he commented as he began Mass.

Father John Appiah addresses the congregation at St. Mary Church in Oak Ridge at his silver jubilee Mass.

“It’s exciting, absolutely exciting. Why? Because here is where I graduated from high school. This is where we lived. And everything I have done, they always are a part of me 1,000 percent,” the Diocese of Knoxville priest said.

“I have never picked up the phone or showed up asking for anything that they didn’t deliver, whether it was a medical mission eight times to Ghana or anything else. They have always come through. Always,” he added. “This is home sweet home. I love them and they love me.”

Father Appiah attended elementary school at St. Mary in Oak Ridge and is a graduate of Knoxville Catholic High School in the class of 1990. He attended seminary at St. Meinrad in St. Meinrad, Ind.

Father Appiah was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Knoxville in May 1998 by then-Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell. Originally from Ghana, he wanted to be a missionary priest when he answered the priesthood call. He was introduced to the Diocese of Knoxville by Bishop O’Connell and discovered this was a mission diocese.

So, he became a mission diocese priest, serving at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Stephen parishes in Chattanooga, Notre Dame High School, St. Mary in Oak Ridge, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in LaFollette, Christ the King in Tazewell, and St. Jude in Helenwood, as well as Notre Dame Parish in Greeneville, St. John Neumann in Farragut, All Saints in Knoxville, and Knoxville Catholic High School from 1998 to 2013.

That’s when he answered a second call to serve God through the military and left for the Air Force. Father Appiah is returning to Turkey, where he previously served a few years ago.

During his homily, Father Appiah shared personal and professional parts of his ministry and his call to serve God as a priest in uniform with an officer’s rank.

He thanked the congregation for attending his silver jubilee Mass.

He told them emotional intelligence doesn’t go far enough and stressed “emotional connection,” deeply connecting with those around you.

“Truthfully, faithfully, and humbly, you can put me in this category. America has been very good to me, and I am deeply grateful for that,” he said, pointing to many longtime friends in attendance as representing America to him.

He singled out Father Nolan, who was the first pastor the then-newly ordained Father Appiah served under.

Priests who concelebrated Father John Appiah’s 25th anniversary Mass and deacons show off their festive neckwear.

He said Father Nolan understood the new priest needed a car and handed him a $1,000 check for a down payment. Father Nolan told Father Appiah he could pay back the $1,000 over time or not pay it back at all.

“That is the kind of priest I have worked with over all these years. They are generous, and they don’t wait for you to ask for anything. So, I want to say to all the priests, thank you,” Father Appiah shared.

He cited emotional connections for all the support he has received for his missions to Ghana, his native homeland.

Also in attendance for the anniversary of his ordination were his brother, Anthony Appiah, and his wife, Constance, who traveled to Oak Ridge from Atlanta.

Father Appiah told the congregation that leaders like Father Nolan and his brother, Anthony, illustrate the leader he wants to become, giving examples of their influence on his priesthood, such as when his brother dropped everything to come to the young priest’s aid when he was stranded out of state due to car troubles, even at the risk of losing his job.

Father Appiah recalled the parishes where he served and how he was encouraged by his bishops and fellow priests to continue his mission ministry in Ghana.

“They made all of these things possible,” Father Appiah said. “I have had wonderful relationships with all the bishops: Bishop O’Connell, who is the reason I am here; Bishop [Joseph E.] Kurtz; and Bishop [Richard F.] Stika. And I am grateful for everything they have taught me.”

Father Appiah, who has been a world traveler leading international missions and serving as a military chaplain, visited a variety of countries before and since he has been a diocesan priest, including France, Germany, Haiti, Mexico, Vietnam, Canada, Italy, and the Philippines.

“The one regret I have is this. I didn’t get the opportunity to see the part of the world where a lot of our priests come from. I have not been to Colombia. We have priests from Colombia. I have not been to Sri Lanka—yet. There are priests from Sri Lanka. I have not been to Ireland—yet. There are priests from Ireland. I have not been to India—yet. There are priests from India. I have not been to Uganda—yet. There are priests from Uganda. I have not been to the Sudan—yet. There are priests from the Sudan,” Father Appiah acknowledged.

“My next opportunity is to literally go to all of these places where our priests come from. I have not been to Nigeria—yet. We have priests from Nigeria in the diocese,” he noted. “I need to go and see where my brother priests come from. That will help me see what and who they are.”

Looking to the future, Father Appiah shared that before he retires from the active ministry in a number of years, he plans to establish a foundation to build a school in his native Ghana.

“It’s going to be the best school in Ghana, from kindergarten through high school. And it’s going to have an endowment in the United States,” he said, noting that he is concerned as Protestant and Muslim communities grow in Ghana ahead of the Catholic Church. “The one thing that can make a difference is absolutely education. We have something to teach.”

“This Church in Knoxville is that emotional connection for children, adults, and the future,” he continued. “I’m not asking for donations. I’m just telling you what my plan is for the future. And God help me, that will come to fruition.”

Following the Communion hymn, the St. Mary choir sang “Wa Wa Wa Emimimo (Come, O Holy Spirit),” a Nigerian spiritual.

Father Appiah plans to continue serving as a military chaplain, but he pointed out that the decision is up to the next bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville.

“We serve at the pleasure of the bishop. So, as long as the bishop says stay, I stay. But if he says come back, then that will be the end, and I will return,” he said. “You serve under the directive of the bishop. Military chaplains are needed, so all my bishops, including Bishop Stika, have said stay in as long as you can.”

In addition to his silver jubilee as a priest, Father Appiah is marking his 10th year as a military chaplain in 2023.

To conclude his homily, Father Appiah gave heartfelt appreciation to the congregation and the St. Mary community for supporting his ministry.

“I just want to say to all of you thank you. When the cock crows at 3 o’clock, I’ll be saying to you, ‘Thank you for all that you have done to support me in my priesthood,’” he said.

Comments 1

  1. I am keeping you in my prayers for your safety as I did for Ted when he was in the Army. When you asked about my children I didn’t think about how long it had been since you had seen either or anything about them. Laura was starting a new position in Tanzania as a government ( US ) contractor. Not sure what she’s doing but she finished her last one after many years in Nigeria working for Walter Reed hospital research division as the director of that country’s labs. Ted retired from the Army, lives in Oak Ridge, has a martial arts school, teaches 3 classes at Pellissipi State, a couple classes for a homeschool cooperative and is at the writing stage of his PhD. Enjoyed your mass and reception.

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