The Rev. Jim Sichko thinks now, right before the season of Lent, is the perfect time to announce that controversial celebrity chef Paula Deen will be the guest for his "Afternoon Among Friends" event on Memorial Day at Lexington's Carrick House.
"Lent is a time to seek reconciliation and renewal, and all of us can move forward," Sichko said of the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter that is observed by many Christian denominations.
Sichko has made a name for himself by organizing fundraisers for his parish at St. Mark Roman Catholic Church in Richmond that featured celebrities such as Harry Connick Jr., Bill Cosby and Donny Osmond.
He says he got to know Deen last year and asked her to appear at one of his events right before she was swamped with media attention when she admitted, in the midst of a failed lawsuit filed by a former employee at one of her restaurants, that she had used a racially offensive term in the past.
Last week, Deen got involved in a new controversy when she told CNN that her experience was "like that black football player who recently came out," referring to former University of Missouri player and NFL prospect Michael Sam.
Despite the troubles, Sichko said that he never considered withdrawing his invitation for Deen to appear at his event and that he had heard only positive things from confidants who were aware of the booking.
"As a priest, as a human being, as a person, who of us hasn't goofed and wished we had acted differently or chosen a different route?" Sichko said. "If we're all going to be judged on a singular act we have done, we're all in trouble.
"I don't know why we as individuals enjoy when people are low on their luck. That's very disturbing."
Deen is not a stranger to Lexington or Kentucky. In 2007 she spoke to a sold-out crowd of 1,600 in Lexington, and last year, her sons Jamie and Bobby Deen appeared at the Incredible Food Show at Lexington Center. She also played Aunt Dora in Cameron Crowe's 2005 movie Elizabethtown, which starred Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, and was filmed largely in Versailles and Louisville.
Sichko says the May event, formatted like a high tea at "half-past two o'clock in the afternoon," will be similar to an event he had with former first lady Laura Bush in 2011.
Only be 100 to 150 tickets will be available. By contrast, Sichko has presented numerous large-scale events, including a sold-out performance by Dolly Parton at Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts on May 27, the day after the Deen event.
"This will be wonderful opportunity to have a day of conversation among friends and being together," Sichko said of the Deen event. "We come together and we are friendly."
Proceeds will benefit scholarships for St. Mark Catholic School; Wounded Warrior Project, which aids wounded veterans; and Deen's Bag Lady Foundation, which helps women and families in times of need.