Parish: 233-3092 | School: 232-5290 | Faith Formation: 232-3514 | 2900 Hoover Avenue, Ames IA

Father James Secora celebrated his 45th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood on Sunday, May 31 (Pentecost Sunday) with Mass at 10am with only a few staff members present, a virtual congregation, and no reception after Mass. 

A few weeks before his anniversary date, some of his staff at St. Cecilia wanted to plan something for him to celebrate his anniversary. Kayla Greiner, Director of Youth Ministry, says, “I knew Fr. Jim was missing his parishioners and seeing them. With his last few months as our pastor, he has not been able to see and celebrate Mass with them due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I wanted to do something special for him.”

The staff at St. Cecilia brainstormed what could be done to celebrate his anniversary “COVID style.” They knew for birthdays that people were doing drive-by parties, so they came up with a surprise drive-by celebration in the parking lot of St. Cecilia. Mary Sue Derks, Administrative Assistant, says, “We thought a surprise celebration would be nice. We knew it was going to be tough. Fr Jim has commented before that, ‘You cannot keep a secret from the pastor!’ but we were going to try our best.”

The staff immediately started planning and contacting people to help out. They asked Pete Tekippe from Pete Tekippe Photography to take photos. They asked the Knights of Columbus to help with traffic flow in the parking lot. They asked Deacon Mark & Melissa Bortle to come and assist with holding the doors open and receiving cards from people.

On the morning of May 31, the few staff that has been assisting Father celebrate Mass were ready and excited. They thought of every little detail. They kept Father Jim at church after Mass by sharing brunch with him. Though when it got closer to 12pm, some of the staff had preplanned to make up excuses to leave early from brunch which included: prior commitments, a phone call in the office, and a tee time for golf. Those staff members with the excuses left for the parking lot to make sure all was set up for the celebration. The staff member left with Father Jim used the excuse that she needed help carrying something in from her car that was too heavy for her.

Around 12 PM, Father Jim walked out the main entrance of St. Cecilia and the horns started going off. Father Jim was shocked and surprised. He started waving and had the biggest grin on his face. Father Jim says, “I was overwhelmed when I saw all the cars and listened to the horns sounding and the church bells ringing.  I hoped some of the neighbors weren’t going to call the Ames Police and report a sound nuisance complaint!  (Just kidding!)  I could never have imagined such a greeting!  It was wonderful to see all those people whom I hadn’t seen in two months!  Nobody seemed to have aged too badly!  The kindness and love will remain a memory I will treasure always.”

The surprise drive-by celebration was a total success. There were approximately 130 cars, 1 motorcycle, and 2 bicyclists. People made signs and decorated their cars. One pick-up truck had a train with the rail cars listing the places he’s been a pastor. Everyone enjoyed wishing Father Jim a happy anniversary. In the end, keeping the secret from Father was semi-successful. Father Jim says, “I can’t say I was totally taken off guard. One day Mary Sue one of the parish Administrative Assistants got called away from her desk for a couple of minutes. She had sent a memo regarding the celebration to the copier machine just before I had sent something from my office. When I went into the copy machine room and picked up the stack of papers as I was going through them, I saw Mary Sue’s memo. Glancing at it, I immediately saw that ‘this is not for my eyes’ and turned it over.  Walking out into the office I handed the paper to a startled Mary Sue who said, ‘You didn’t read this, did you?’ I must confess to telling a tiny lie as I replied, ‘No. I saw just the beginning and knew it was for your eyes only.’ And then added, ‘As I’ve always said, it’s hard to keep things forever secret from me.’ But, in the end, I could never have imagined what all of this would look like.”

Happy 45th Anniversary to the priesthood Father Jim! Thank you for your years of service, leadership, guidance, and commitment to the people you have ministered! Check out St. Cecilia’s Facebook page for photos and videos of the celebration.  (article written by Kayla Greiner, Director of Youth Ministry; photographs by Pete Tekippe Photography).