Cover photo for Fr. Herbert "Herb" T. Gappa's Obituary
Fr. Herbert "Herb" T. Gappa Profile Photo
1942 Fr. Herb T. 2023

Fr. Herbert "Herb" T. Gappa

January 4, 1942 — December 22, 2023

Ossining, New York, Formerly of Urbank

Father Herbert “Herb” T. Gappa, age 81, passed away at Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers in Ossining, New York on December 22, 2023.   In the days prior to his passing, five of his nieces and nephews traveled to New York from Minnesota, Idaho, and Illinois to spend time with him.

A Memorial Mass in honor of Father Herb Gappa will be held at 10 a.m. E.T. on Monday, January 8th at Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, in Ossining, New York. To view Fr. Gappa‘s obituary and service details on the Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers website click: HERE

A link for the livestream will be available on the funeral home website.

A Memorial Mass in honor of Father Herb Gappa will be held at 11 a.m. C.T. on Friday, January 26th, 2024 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Urbank, Minnesota with Father Jeremy Theis and Father Bill Vos concelebrating.  Music will be provided by the Sacred Heart Choir.    

A link for the livestream will be available on the funeral home website.

Following the mass in Urbank, a visitation and meal will be served starting at 12:30 p.m. at the Prairie Event Center in Parkers Prairie with a celebration of life service at 1:30 p.m.. Music will be provided by Herb's friend, Connie Lee.

A link for the livestream will be available on the funeral home website.

Herb was born during a blizzard at the family home in Urbank, Minnesota on January 4, 1942 to Joseph P. and Mary (Dorn) Gappa.    He was the youngest of five children and began his education in a one room country school with his mother as the teacher.   Herb then attended Sacred Heart Grade School in Urbank.     There, when he was twelve years old, a Maryknoll priest visited the school to talk about mission work.  Herb was inspired, and at age 13, he moved from Urbank to Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania and entered Maryknoll Junior Seminary (Venard).   He obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy at Maryknoll College in Glen Ellyn, Illinois in 1963.   Following that, Herb received his Master of Arts degree in Theology at Maryknoll Seminary in Ossining, New York and was ordained as a priest on June 8, 1968.  

After ordination, Father Gappa was assigned to the Maryknoll Mission Region in Tanzania, East Africa.  He studied the language and culture of the Sukuma people and was sent to Shinyanga Diocese as assistant pastor at Sayusayu and Ndoleleji  along with mentor Father Dan Ohmann.   He returned home in 1972 while his mother was ill.   While back in Minnesota, he worked from the Maryknoll Development House in Minneapolis for three years doing college classroom lectures, awareness programs, and networking.

 In the mid 1970’s Father Paul Fagan, pastor of Old Maswa parish, needed help in ministering to the parishioners in the rapidly expanding town of Bariadi, Tanzania. Coming from a farm in Wisconsin, Fr. Paul easily made friends with his neighbor from Minnesota. He was quick to recognize the many talents and vision that Fr. Herb brought to his missionary ministry.  He instinctively knew that Fr. Herb was the one who could develop the center that Fr. Paul had opened in Somanda and eventually make it a parish. However, Fr. Herb was very much involved in Maryknoll’s work in the U.S. How to get him to agree to come to Bariadi was a big challenge.  Communications between the U.S. and Tanzania were very limited at the time.  Persistent letters and difficult phone calls from Nairobi, Kenya were used. Fr. Herb finally said that he had not made up his mind and that he didn’t know what he was going to do.  In other words, stop pestering me! However the Holy Spirit took over and the rest is history. Fr. Herb returned to Tanzania, and after Swahili studies, he gave his all to the St. John parish in Bariadi.  His extraordinary vision of what could be and what might be continues to be seen in the development of the church in Bariadi. He talked about the possibility of Bariadi becoming a diocese long before anyone else thought of it.  They are now waiting for it to happen at any time. He was well known for his work and will be remembered for a long time to come.

Father Gappa was first and foremost a pastor, priest, and missionary.   His life’s work was in service to God and the Bariadi community – growing faith and the Church.  When he first moved to Bariadi, there was a commonly held attitude that personal misfortunes happened because “God planned it that way”.   Father Gappa taught by example of a deep faith in a loving God combined with hard work that one could meet life’s challenges.   His motto was that it is better to nurture growth than to watch death.    

Father Gappa loved a good Tanzanian liturgy that included vibrant singing, glorious dancing, and common-sense preaching.   Even more, he integrated ecology into parish life.    His pastoral work included encouraging the planting of trees and digging shallow wells to provide clean, safe water.    Planting trees and planting faith were interconnected.  He would often say:   “When you die and go to heaven, at the pearly gates, St. Peter will ask you one question:   On earth, how many trees did you plant and how many trees did you cut down?”    

Herb had an exceptional “vision” for preparing for future needs.   He wanted to aim high.   Before the town of Bariadi grew, he organized the purchase of multiple plots of land for the growth of the church in every direction, including chapels and plots for trees.   The first and main church was St John’s.   The second church, St. Luke’s, was built in the center of Bariadi along with the Gappa Primary School.   St. Mark’s and St. Matthew’s chapels were also built strategically throughout the Bariadi areas to provide meeting places for prayer and small Christian community gatherings.       

Tanzania became Father Gappa’s home and family as he lived there for more than 30 years.   He loved and respected the people in the community.    He eventually returned to Minnesota and continued mission promotion stateside, but his friends from Tanzania visited frequently.

Herb appreciated life in Minnesota – especially at his Lake Ida cabin where he often attempted to introduce his Tanzanian friends to “lake life”.    It is also where he taught his nieces and nephews to water ski and where many festive gatherings with family and friends were held, including Sunday mass.    In both conversations and in preaching, he often intermingled English, Swahili and “KiUrbanki” all in the same sentence – throwing in words and phrases like Sawa Sawa,  Asante Sana, Hodi……   and the ever famous “Uffda”.    He enjoyed gardening, hunting, fishing, cheering for the Vikings, and watching the moonlight on the lake.  

In 2019, Father Gappa once again moved to Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers in Ossining New York .  

Herb had self-proclaimed nicknames like: “The Red Baron” and “One Shot Gappa”.     He had many friends all over the world.   There are so many stories Herb’s loved ones want to share about him, it is impossible to include them all.    He loved his family and will be deeply missed.

Herb is survived by nephews/nieces:  Richard A. (Deb) Gappa, Cathi (Scott) Boerner, Stacy (Mike) Quirarte, Amy (Doug) Byrne, Noel (Nancy) Zerbonia, and Tanya Zerbonia. Sister-in-law: Joyce Gappa Jahnke, Maryknoll protégé and cousin: Marty Roers, and many fellow Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.    He was preceded in death by his parents:  Joseph P. Gappa and Mary (Dorn) Gappa, brother Richard M. Gappa, and sisters Dorothy Hart, Bernadine Zerbonia, and Mary Gappa, and nephews David Gappa and Thomas Zerbonia.

Matthew 25:23:     His lord said unto him, “Well done, good and faithful servant…”

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Fr. Herbert "Herb" T. Gappa, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Memorial Mass

Monday, January 8, 2024

Starts at 10:00 am (Eastern time)

Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers

55 Ryder Rd, Ossining, NY 10562

Livestream

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Mass

Friday, January 26, 2024

Starts at 11:00 am (Central time)

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Urbank

60 N Central Ave, Vining, MN 56588

Livestream

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Visitation & Meal

Friday, January 26, 2024

12:30 - 1:30 pm (Central time)

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Celebration of Life

Friday, January 26, 2024

Starts at 1:30 pm (Central time)

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