June 10, 2024 | Local News, Vocations
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Fr. Emmanuel Udoh, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul in Hopkinsville, poses with a cake made in honor of the 10th anniversary of his priestly ordination. A surprise luncheon was held on May 31, 2024, to celebrate the occasion. COURTESY OF DAWN C. LIGIBEL

Fr. Emmanuel Udoh surprised with 10th anniversary celebration


Fr. Emmanuel Udoh, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul in Hopkinsville, was rendered speechless and was overwhelmed with emotion when he was surprised by nearly 70 people on May 31, 2024 – the 10th anniversary of his priestly ordination.

The guests who gathered at noon in Meredith Hall on the Sts. Peter and Paul campus included people from the four parishes where Fr. Udoh previously served, four brother priests (Frs. Pat Reynolds, Jerry Riney, John Thomas, and Jude Okeoma), and many from the Sts. Peter and Paul parish family.

As Fr. Udoh attempted to address the crowd shortly after arriving, he was overtaken with emotion and deferred to Fr. Christopher Kight, parochial vicar of Sts. Peter and Paul, to say the blessing over the food.  After the blessing, Fr. Udoh did manage to say, “My mom would be crying today.  She will be having some kind of celebration,” he explained of his mother who still resides in Nigeria.

Fr. Kight was instrumental in planning the event as well as pulling off the surprise.

“Fr. Chris told me to stay close today,” explained Fr. Udoh. “Then he told me to be at the rectory at noon with my jacket on. Here I was taking orders from my associate,” Fr. Udoh said, laughing, all the while admitting that he had no inkling of the surprise in store. “He told me that we were going out to lunch, but then circled the car back to the parish hall.”

When the two priests entered the kitchen of the hall, under the guise that Fr. Kight needed to “check on something” before they went to lunch, Fr. Udoh was shocked when the guests began clapping as he entered.

Fr. Emmanuel Udoh, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul in Hopkinsville, is overwhelmed at a surprise luncheon held on May 31, 2024, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his priestly ordination. COURTESY OF DAWN C. LIGIBEL

Among those in attendance were Sarah and Ryan Bessinger, the first couple Fr. Udoh joined in marriage as a priest at Holy Spirit in Bowling Green (his first assignment) in 2015.  After asking the couple to rise, Fr. Udoh explained, “When they were married, he claimed that he would never become a Catholic. Before long, he converted and has been a fiery Catholic ever since.”

Fr. John Thomas, rector of St. Stephen Cathedral, was asked to speak after the meal.

“Fr. Emmanuel’s first assignment after ordination was to Holy Spirit in Bowling Green where I was pastor. Shortly after he arrived, I suffered a stroke. He did such an amazing job serving the parish in my absence. When I returned, I asked how he did it, and he simply said, ‘When I saw your name, I just did what I thought you would do,’” Fr. Thomas explained. “Well, he did such a fantastic job, that I thought ‘I have to get him out of here!’” Fr. Thomas added, which elicited much laughter from the crowd.

Fr. Kight also shared some thoughts. “After my ordination just over a year ago, the bishop called me and said he would like me to serve at Sts. Peter and Paul.”

Directing his words to Fr. Udoh, Fr. Kight continued, “This past year, you’ve shown me great patience and great love as I learned to be a priest, and the people in this room are just a fraction of the people whose lives you have touched,” Fr. Kight concluded.

After finishing his remarks, Fr. Kight explained that Bishop Medley was unable to attend but sent his congratulations.

Additionally, Fr. Kight shared a few other sentiments from brother priests in the diocese. “There was also another group of people who were not able to be here today, but they sent this,” Fr. Kight concluded. At that time, a video began showing Fr. Udoh’s family – surrounding his mother – as they sang a song in celebration of his 10th priestly anniversary.

After the song, individual family members, beginning with his mother, spoke to Fr. Udoh about the blessing of his priestly calling and to congratulate him on this anniversary. Additional family members, including his four sisters and one brother, also spoke. Fr. Udoh struggled to suppress his emotions, including tears of joy, laughter, and a huge smile as he watched.

At the conclusion of the video, Fr. Udoh spoke to those gathered. “I am so humbled,” he repeated several times.

Dawn C. Ligibel belongs to Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Hopkinsville.

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