Brother Roman Zapadka, OMI at St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish
"Don't try to push away your call. It will come stronger and stronger and sooner or later, it will get you."
These words of advice from Brother Roman Zapadka, OMI come from experience. After finishing engineering school in Poland, Zapadka felt a calling on his heart to follow Jesus. As an educated young adult, he desired to find where he could serve the Lord with his gifts.
"The call was becoming stronger and I was pushing it further away. I thought, 'that's not for me.'" Friends suggested he become a priest but it didn't seem like the right fit.
Nonetheless, the call persisted. Eventually he attended a parish mission at his parish. A Franciscan talked about the importance of brothers in religious orders.
In this vocation, Zapadka recognized a unique ability to be close to people and use his gifts in service of the Church. "My heart was shaking. I knew that's what I wanted to do: to use my skills and gifts and talents as a brother."
The young man set out on a 600 km walking pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Halfway through, he almost gave up. But a 70-year-old man, who walked with a cane, had completed the pilgrimage 30 times and inspired him to keep going. By the end of the journey and through much prayer, his call to the brotherhood was confirmed.
The desires of his heart were more completely fulfilled when he learned of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, founded by St. Eugene de Mazenod with a mission to serve "those people whose condition cries out for salvation and for the hope which only Jesus Christ can fully bring" (Const. 5). This especially includes the poor and abandoned around the world.
Zapadka had always felt drawn toward serve in Africa. When a friend who had just entered the Oblates told him of the order's missionary activity there, he knew this was the order to which he was called. He entered the Oblates in Poland in 1987 and eventually moved to Canada, where he learned English and took his final vows.
After serving in a number of the Oblate's ministries in Canada, in 2000, Zapadka's dream to use his gifts in Africa came to fruition. There was a group of Oblate priests at the order's mission in Kenya, but they needed a brother. For four years, he served in Kenya where his engineering background was put to good use in construction and engineering projects.
These days, Zapadka serves in the Archdiocese of Toronto as a hospital chaplain. He lives at St. Stanislaus Kostka, an Oblate parish in the city's Queen West neighbourhood. He regularly takes communion to those in hospital, a task which quickly became his favourite ministry.
"I'm walking with Jesus because I always have communion with me when I'm working."
As he goes about his ministry, he sees the ways Jesus leads his day. Often he'll end up on the wrong floor of the hospital and encounter someone who is in need of an attentive ear or desires to receive the Eucharist.
Besides a mission to serve in the city's hospitals, the Oblates are active in many ministries in the Archdiocese of Toronto, always with the goal of serving the spiritual needs of those least touched by the Gospel and doing so in their own language. Their significant work with immigrants includes running parishes catering to the large Polish community in Mississauga. They also run Copernicus Lodge Polish retirement home in Toronto and the Queen of Apostles Renewal Centre in Mississauga.
Some of their more unique work includes operating a Polish credit union and the Catholic Youth Studio radio station.
During this Year of Consecrated Life, Zapadka hopes for an increase of vocations to the brotherhood in all religious congregations.
"I hope that people will not be afraid to follow Jesus…to trust him completely and not to doubt or look back. Because when you trust Jesus, everything ends up on the right path."
Throughout the Year of Consecrated Life, each month we will feature one religious order present in the Archdiocese of Toronto.
Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.