CALEDONIA, Mich. — Fr. Stephen Rodrigo has been a priest for over 45 years and has been a part of the Kalamazoo Diocese since 1999.
This year, for his 78th birthday, parishioners pitched in to buy him a hot air balloon ride, something that was on his bucket list for years.
"I never dreamed I would go up in the hot air balloon," Fr. Stephen Rodrigo laughed, "this is a great surprise."
Fr. Rodrigo, or 'Fr. Steve' as he's known by parishioners at St. Mary's Visitation and St. Stanislaus parishes in Allegan Country, has given so much to the Kalamazoo Diocese over the past two decades. On Sunday, however, it was his parishioners giving back to him.
"I cannot thank them enough, I will give them all plenty of blessings," added Fr. Steve.
Ever since moving to West Michigan from South India in 1999, Fr. Steve says he has dreamed of going up in a hot air balloon, even calling it a bucket list item.
"I was living in central Battle Creek for three years," he said, "I had seen hundreds of balloons during the Fourth of July."
But he never thought in his wildest dreams that he would ever go up in one.
"This is kind of a new experience," he chuckled.
Fr. Steve was born and raised in South India and says while this birthday surprise is extremely special, it may be have to be a close second.
"When I was small, my mother used to put me on elephant rides in India," Fr. Rodrigo explained, "I would go on the elephant, climb on that, and the driver would take me, this is almost equal to that," he laughed.
On Sunday, Fr. Steve flew high above Caledonia and Green Lake, crossing the hot air balloon ride off of his bucket list, all thanks to parishioners at St. Mary's Visitation in New Salem.
"I cannot forget this. This will be the last part of my life, but this is a great historical event, I will invoke the Lord's blessing upon all of us that are here," Fr. Steve said.