By Dan Russo
WATERLOO — Father Andy Upah joked recently that he was the newest ordained priest in the archdiocese “by about two minutes.”
The Tama native received the sacrament of holy orders with Father Jacob Rouse May 26 at St. Raphael Cathedral. At the most recent Pastoral Leadership Study Day in Waterloo Oct. 16, the priest shared his vocation story.
Father Upah recalled that his pastor, Father Keith Birch, suggested the priesthood to him as early as middle school, but the young man was resistant. Others, including his grandmother, saw the possibility of a calling in him, but by young adulthood he still wasn’t ready to explore it. “Really, what needed to happen was I really needed to grow in my faith before I was ready to take that next step, so God helped me to do that through dating Protestant girls and trying to convert them,” reflected Father Upah. “So I spent most of my free time looking for the magic bullet to convert them, but I really only converted myself, realizing the absolute truth of the Catholic Church and the need for priests to provide the sacraments.”
At some point before entering seminary, Father Upah asked his parents what they would think of him becoming a priest.
“I asked them, and they each said they thought I should be a priest from the time I was this tall,” he said. “I was a little frustrated with that because I had endured a lot of pain and heartache in that search for Ms. Right, but they said it was so I could make a free choice and not be pressured.”
Father Upah entered seminary at age 30.
“The key is that young men need to know they are being specifically called, not just because they are a boy that is somewhat interested in their faith,” Father Upah reflected. “So if a priest invites every young man in the parish to consider priesthood or grandma invites every one of her grandsons, well, that’s not very convincing. But if they know that this is a unique call that they don’t see in everyone, it has much more impact.”
Along his journey to the priesthood, Father Upah also thought about where he was needed in the church.
“I watched my parish get clustered and four churches in Tama County close, all due to the priest shortage,” he said. “I saw the priesthood as a real sacrifice, giving up control of my life and the possibility of a family, but at the same time, I’d seen enough of my friends and family get married and I’d been in enough relationships myself to know that marriage is hard work and that having a family would be really sacrificing for them. I realized I was going to be sacrificing my life for the good of others, either for my wife and three kids or dog or for a 1,000 or so parishioners or 6,000.”
Now, five months into his priesthood, Father Upah is associate pastor at the Church of the Resurrection in Dubuque. “I love it,” he said. “The work is very fulfilling.”
Father Upah thanked all those who helped throughout his journey.
“I could not have gotten here alone,” he said. “No priest ever does.”
Photo: Father Andy Upah is shown prior to his ordination, while he was a seminarian at Mundelein Seminary. (Photo courtesy of Mundelein Seminary)