Kentucky Priest Smuggles Ten Bottles of Bourbon for Pope Francis

A Kentucky priest who is also a member of Pope Francis’s Missionaries of Mercy smuggled ten bottles of Kentucky bourbon into the Vatican last week, presenting a very rare bottle of 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle to the Holy Father.

“Pope Francis receiving his 23 yr old Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon as we shared our love of My Ole Kentucky Home!” Father Jim Sichko, a preacher, evangelist, and motivational speaker, tweeted with a picture of Pope Francis receiving the bourbon.

“They all laughed. It was like ‘how did you do this?’ It brought joy,” Sichko told the Lexington Herald-Leader. He delivered the hard liquor in a private audience with the pope for the hundreds of papal Missionaries of Mercy. Sichko sat in the front row, and jumped forward to present the expensive bourbon to the Holy Father.

“He knew I was from Kentucky so when I handed it to him, he immediately said, ‘bourbon,’ and I said yes, and then he said, ‘very good bourbon,'” the priest recalled.

Francis was correct: 23-year-old Pappy is very rare, and would cost hundreds of dollars on the open market.

Sichko did not pay for the bourbon himself. Looking forward to his visit to the Vatican, the priest said, “I was trying to figure out what would be special.” A friend from Louisville got him the Pappy.

“I am not a connoisseur, but I know the great history of it in Kentucky and to be honest, I really felt that that was the bourbon to use,” Sichko said. The friend knows Julian Van Winkle, and gave Sichko Van Wrinkle’s cellphone number. After the event, the priest sent the bourbon master the pictures.

“Grazie, Father Jim, very cool,” Van Winkle texted back. “Well, we sure don’t need the publicity (not enough product) but this is awesome!!”

Expect Pappy Van Winkle to open another distillery sometime soon…

The bourbon master couldn’t help but ask, “See if he’ll send you a photo of him sipping some 23!!”

Sichko did not just bring one bottle to Rome, however. The priest also smuggled bottles of Van Winkle, Knob Creek, Four Roses, and Woodford Reserve bourbon for the Swiss guards and other Catholic officials.

“All the PAPPYS, 4 ROSES and WOODFORD RESERVE made it to give to Pope Francis and his security detail! Thanks Be to God!” Sichko tweeted.

While Catholicism takes a very positive view toward alcohol (but not drunkenness), Sichko still feared that he wouldn’t be able to smuggle the bourbon into the Vatican. “I was really worried it would be confiscated or stolen,” he told the Lexington Herald-Leader. He wrapped the bottles in bubble wrap and labeled them by volume and proof, splitting them between his two suitcases.

“And then I put the rules on top of them. So whoever was opening the suitcase to inspect could see that we knew what we were talking about,” Sichko explained.

Relieved, he added, “They all go there.”

The priest brought one extra bottle of bourbon for the Vatican head of security, “and he helped me get through security line to be able to present [the Pappy] to the Pope.”

Hilariously, he tweeted his support for the military in sharing a picture of himself with the commander of the Swiss Guard. “Today I delivered a bottle of Pappys to the Commander of the Swiss Guard!” Sichko tweeted. “We love and pray for all our Military and First Responders across the world!”

The bourbon mission received quite a good response back home in Kentucky. The state’s secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes, shared the story on Twitter. “Some Pappy for the Pope! [Jim Sichko] is one of 100 Papal Missionary’s of Mercy in the US! Always making KY proud with his work to lift others up…including [Pope Francis].”

“All that is left is to invite him to be Grand Marshal of the QS 400. Make it happen [Jim Sichko]!” Mark Simendinger, general manager of Kentucky Speedway, tweeted.

There is little quite as American as bourbon, first distilled in Kentucky in the late 1700s by Scots. The drink often accompanied settlers as they moved West, providing a cheap source of comfort in tough times. This gift truly embodies a defining American spirit — pardon the pun — and a suitable gift for an historic occasion.