Holy Name School's director of children's faith formation says husband's battle with ALS left a lasting impression on his family
BIRMINGHAM — On a Friday morning in late March, the hallways of Holy Name Catholic School in Birmingham were quiet, as students had the day off.
Not so for Maureen Apap, the school’s new director of children’s faith formation, who had a full schedule of meetings.
Her office is spacious and just down the hall from the church. A wife and mother of three children, Apap sat at a table next to a shelf full of books and a crucifix on the wall above her.
Apap grew up in New York, the daughter of immigrants.
“We moved around a lot when we were young for my dad’s job. He eventually got hired by Rockwell International, and that’s how our family ended up in Detroit," Apap said. "We lived on Oak Street (in Birmingham), and my siblings and I walked to Holy Name every day."
Apap attended Marian High School, and majored in English at Boston College. She earned her teaching certificate at the University of Michigan, and landed her first job at St. Hugo of the Hills in Bloomfield Hills.
Msgr. John Zenz, who has led Holy Name Parish since 2008, lauded Apap's long career as a Catholic school teacher, as well as her vocation as a wife, mother and daughter.
“When I needed a new director to replace Meg Eib, who retired because of illness, I almost immediately thought of Maureen, who embodies the tradition of faith in word and deed. She knows most of the Holy Name families firsthand and enjoys their respect,” Msgr. Zenz said.
From the smile on her face, it’s clear Apap loves what she does.
“When Monsignor asked if I’d ever consider coming on full-time, I was like, yes," Apap explained. "Meg’s daughter Maria stayed on as an assistant, and she’s amazing. I came in kind of blind, but now I lead the faith formation for all the kids in the parish."
Apap's ministry "is really about the parish kids who go to public schools," she said. "I do work with the Holy Name kids, but the bulk of my work is the religious education for the kids who don’t go to Catholic schools.”
Apap also works with students who are parishioners of Holy Name and attend Catholic academies such as University of Detroit Jesuit and the Academy of the Sacred Heart, where they have religion class every day, but rely on their parish for sacramental preparation.
“To be confirmed at their home parish, they have all the same requirements of writing papers, going on retreat and service hours,” Apap said. “I also meet with Msgr. Zenz every week. He’s encouraged me to make this my own and to think of new things I want to do.”
Apap met her future husband, Paul, through a friend while she was earning her teaching certificate. Maureen was 29 when they met, and they got engaged four months later. Paul played hockey at Brother Rice, studied accounting at Michigan State University, earned a degree at the University of Detroit Mercy Law School, and received his master’s in tax from Georgetown University. They were married seven months later.
“We just knew,” Maureen said with a smile. “Our first date was a Red Wings game. I should’ve had a little glimpse of what my life was going to be like from that first date. Paul started coaching tot hockey, and I think he loved it more than being a lawyer. He put up our first backyard rink when our oldest child was four. We flooded our neighbor’s yard, but we put a rink up every year.”
In December 2009, Paul started noticing a weakness in his arms. He told Maureen he was having trouble shooting the puck in hockey practice. Then he dropped a plate of food at a hockey party. X-rays were taken, but the scans didn't show anything out of the ordinary. A neurologist ran him through some tests, and Maureen was relieved when they were told he didn’t have multiple sclerosis.
The tests continued until one day, the doctor sat Paul and Maureen down. There was no easy way to say it. Paul had ALS.
“Paul said, 'How long do I have?' The doctor said maybe two to five years," Maureen said. "We went home and just sobbed. That very day, Paul said, 'We have to make the kids’ lives as normal as possible as much as we possibly can.' That was the goal. Paul told the kids on Father's Day when they were 14, 12 and 10.
"I remember Paul saying to me, ‘I’m not going to see the kids graduate from high school if the diagnosis is right,’" Maureen continued. "But he did see all of them graduate from high school and knew where they were all going to college. Even in hospice, Paul would say, ‘Don’t worry, Moey, I don’t feel like I’m dying.’ His faith was remarkable. He was just good to his core.”
Maureen beamed as she talked about her late husband.
“Paul always said it was 'a good day for a good day.' He locked in on that for a reason. Every day, it took everything he had to get through the day and make it positive," Maureen recalled. "He literally talked to our three kids every day — texting them, calling them, in constant contact. He knew all their schedules and his memory was crazy good. He couldn’t write things down or look things up, so he just remembered everything. He was never bitter, and I don’t know how he did it. He just never wasted a minute.”
Paul got to see his oldest son, Tommy, become captain of the hockey team at his beloved alma mater, Michigan State. Tommy, who now plays for the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, said he's grateful for everything his dad taught him.
“He always wanted what’s best for everyone he loved and cared about. He was so generous, positive and courageous before he got sick — and remained that way until he passed," Tommy said. "He impressed me every day with his attitude and outlook on the world. Whenever I’m feeling down about something, I try to take a breath and think about how he would’ve handled it. I’m so lucky to have had him as a father, and I miss him all the time.”
Things didn’t get easier for Maureen after Paul passed. The family dog died late at night just a few days after the funeral. Maureen then broke both of her shoulders playing pickleball.
“It was my first shot, and I did a Superman into the net and cracked both my shoulders and scraped up my face. I had to call some of the people who helped me take care of Paul to come take care of me. I had two slings and two casts and the kids were back in college,” Maureen said, laughing. “I’ve never played pickleball again.”
Teddy Apap was a leading scorer on his University of Detroit Jesuit hockey teams and studied accounting like his father at Marquette University. He now lives in Chicago.
“Growing up, I never fully understood the sacrifices my parents made. All I knew is that I had a great life,” Teddy said. “But as time went on, it was clear to me that my parents hardly ever did anything for themselves. They showed me how true happiness comes from making a positive impact on the people around you. With the role my mom now has at Holy Name, I’m comforted knowing that the positive mindset my parents have been encouraging in our family and the entire community will only be amplified.”
The youngest Apap child, Ellie, graduated from Providence University and is now a medical staff coordinator at Northwestern University.
“My mom is one of the strongest people I know," Ellie said. "She and my dad taught me how to truly love — a life lesson I try to take with me every day. I was 10 years old when my dad was diagnosed with ALS, yet my parents did everything they could to give my brothers and I the happiest childhood, filling our home with love and humor. They taught us how to find joy every day and to face every situation with grace and positivity no matter how hard it may be.”
Ellie was instrumental in starting The Paul C. Apap ALS Foundation, a nonprofit to help people diagnosed with the disease pay for medical expenses for equipment and services. Maureen and her three kids say the foundation is still in the growing stages, but they are committed, along with niece Mary Clare Apap, to lessen the expenses of a disease that can cost up to $200,000 a year.
“It was traumatic to see that happen to your spouse for 10 years,” Maureen said. “It would’ve been a lot worse for me if Paul was different. He made it hard to wallow in self-pity — not that I didn’t, but Paul never did.”
Maureen believes Paul played a role in her landing her new job at Holy Name.
“Paul knew I needed this job to put my energy into something I’d really enjoy," Maureen said. "I think he may have helped plant the idea in Msgr. Zenz. I’m so grateful to Monsignor for letting me know the job was available. Even when he asked me to help at first, it never occurred to me that it’d become my job.”
When asked who or what inspired her strong Catholic faith, Maureen didn’t hesitate.
“Paul and his family," Maureen said. "His mom was so faith-filled and instilled that in all her kids. She died two years to the day that Paul died in 2019, on Dec. 6, at the same time of night. She was waiting to move into a new place where she could get more assistance. She kept saying she didn’t want to move, and then out of nowhere, everything was OK. She said dad and Paul came to see her. She called it a revelation and that they were waiting for her and it no longer mattered where she went."
Still smiling, Maureen recalled her late husband's faith as a rock that continues to inspire his family and others.
“Paul and I used to go to the Solanus Casey Center and pray that Paul would be the miracle we need to get Fr. Solanus his sainthood, but it wasn’t meant to be," Maureen recalled. "But I never witnessed anyone like Paul. He wasn’t going around converting people, obviously, but the way he trusted God was so inspiring. He just had a very deep faith, and it gave him a sense of peace and calmness. Paul fought as hard as he could to stay alive, but he also knew where he was going when he lost the fight.”