RICHMOND, Ky. - A local priest is receiving recognition for surprising the miners of Harlan County with checks and cash to help them get by after being laid-off.
Father James Sichko has lived in the Lexington area for 21 years, and is one of 700 special ambassadors for Pope Francis worldwide called a "Papal Missionary of Mercy." His job is to travel the world doing good deeds for others, and when the Father learned about the laid off Blackjewel workers who claimed their final paychecks bounced, he drove out to the community to help; meeting with families and dispersing $20,000 so they could pay bills.
"It was disturbing for me," said Sichko in his suburban home. "I come from grandparents who were miners; I come from an uncle who was a miner."
The Father's personality is as unique as his day job. In his living room, he proudly displays a cartoonish statue of Jesus Christ winking and giving a thumbs up. He smiled when saying it was gifted to him. Just feet away sits a throw pillow. Printed on one side is a selfie Sichko took with his boss, His Holiness Pope Francis. He has met and taken photos with the likes of Dolly Parton (he calls her a personal friend), Laura Bush, Jennifer Lopez, Ellen Degeneres, and the hundreds-to-thousands of onlookers at each of his mission trip stops. Back in Harlan, Sichko kept the mood as fun as possible; reportedly even handing out some of his money like a game show host to those who arrived first, traveled the farthest, etc.
"Many people can see it in the wrong light," he said. "Many people can see that I’m trying to draw attention to self when, in turn, it’s really drawing attention to the need."
The Vatican has no shortage of treasure but, while the Father does not live a life of poverty, he says he fundraises his salary, travel, living expenses, and the assistance he gives comes from his bank account; donated by people around the world. In other words, it takes a village; a village like Harlan County, where families are pulling themselves together, with a little help along the way.