April 1, 2023 | Your Stories
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Fr. John Okoro cuts into his birthday cake after being surprised by a party thrown by the parishioners of his tri-parish of St. Francis Borgia, St. Ambrose, and St. William in the Central Deanery. COURTESY OF STEPHANIE DOSSETT

Tri-parish community surprises pastor for his birthday


Fr. John Okoro wants our churches, St. Francis Borgia in Sturgis, St. Ambrose in Henshaw, and St. William of Vercelli in Marion, to do more together as a tri-parish. His birthday seemed like the perfect time to start. Initially, the plan was to have a tri-parish welcome back party for him when he returned from visiting his home in Nigeria the first week in February. However, those plans changed due to the unexpected death of a beloved member of St. Ambrose. 

All three parishes typically celebrate his birthday in a small way each year. Still, it seemed fitting this year that we gave him the gift for all three parishes to join and throw him a surprise celebration. The party occurred at St. Ambrose, following their Saturday night Mass on Feb. 25 (his birthday is Feb. 24). Members from each church worked together to plan, decorate, cook, and create a slideshow of pictures of him from activities at each church.

A couple of weeks before his birthday, while looking at the calendar to schedule meetings and parish activities, someone pointed out a date to him and asked about its significance. His response was, “The first Friday of Lent.” It did not register to him that the date was his birthday. That kind of humbleness he shows daily makes him loved by the parishioners at all three parishes. His actions are always to honor God and help others, not himself.

Tri-parish staff celebrated his birthday during a staff meeting on Fat Tuesday. The mini celebration was also a surprise and kept him from thinking we might be planning anything else.

After Mass on Saturday, St. Ambrose parishioners got him to their parish hall, where the members of St. Francis Borgia and St. William were waiting to surprise him along with the other members of St. Ambrose, who he thought had already left for the night.

Fr. Okoro was visibly surprised and pleased with the celebration. He spoke to the crowd, saying it was his “top birthday of 57 years.” He also expressed that it helped to calm him down as he has been tense worrying about the presidential elections in Nigeria, his country of birth.

Everyone had a great night of fellowship, hopefully, the first of many celebrations the tri-parish celebrates together.

Rebecca Woodall is the secretary for St. William of Vercelli Parish in Marion.

Fr. John Okoro smiles for a picture with Bobbie Mackey, a parishioner of St. Ambrose in Henshaw, during his Feb. 25 surprise birthday party. COURTESY OF STEPHANIE DOSSETT

Originally printed in the April 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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