Slidell pastor with kidney failure gets loving connection to transplant _lowres

Photo provided by Karen Baker—The Rev. Jose Roel Lungay, pastor of St. Genevieve Catholic Church in Slidell, will celebrate the 30th anniversary of his ordination as a priest on March 15.

A pastor at a Bayou Liberty church has overcome disasters and disease to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his ordination Sunday.

Asked how he has achieved these milestones, the Rev. Roel Lungay Lungay, pastor of St. Genevieve Catholic Church, said, “God has his own plans.”

That about sums up the medical journey of Lungay, a native of the Philippines. Since 2005, Lungay has had thyroid cancer, diabetes and kidney failure.

Ever optimistic and hopeful, he helped his parish rebuild after Hurricane Katrina and then spent the past three years searching for a life-saving kidney. He found matches in people from New York to family members in the Philippines, but there was always something that got in the way.

In the midst of that frustrating search, he endured a typhoon and an earthquake in the Philippines in 2013, coordinating help for the devastated areas even while he went without his much-needed dialysis and postponed his search for a kidney.

It was a difficult time, he says. But now God’s plan is clear.

On Sunday morning, Lungay presided over the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Genevieve, looking out at his beloved parishioners and thanking the man who saved his life. Sitting there in the congregation was David Evans, who donated his late wife’s kidney to the pastor in November.

“Today was the first time I saw him,” Lungay said. He did not know David and Darnell Evans, he said, but now he carries a part of Darnell Evans with him every day. “I think the best way to keep her alive is to take good care of this gift she gave me.”

The gift came in a wholly unexpected way. On Nov. 19 (his father’s birthday), Lungay got a call from Tulane Hospital that he had received a “direct donation” — that is, someone had named Lungay as the recipient of a kidney.

Things moved quickly after that, Lungay said, as the kidney was tested and determined to be a match. All the while, he did not know how the donation came about or who had selected him. Even when Archbishop Gregory Aymond visited him after surgery and asked, “Who gave you the kidney?” Lungay said he didn’t know.

“I didn’t know until I got home,” he said, when parishioner Edolia Barros gave him the story.

This is the story she told: On Nov. 19, Barros was at Slidell Memorial Hospital with her sister, who was having bypass surgery. At some point, she saw David Evans, a fellow parishioner who was at the hospital with his wife, who was on life support. In the midst of this tragedy, Barros and Evans talked about Lungay, who had been at the hospital moments ago visiting Barros’ sister.

Knowing of Lungay’s search, Evans made the decision to give his pastor the gift of life. It’s a gift Lungay will always treasure.

“This took time to sink in,” Lungay said. In fact, he added, it hasn’t sunk in just yet. “I thank God every day. I keep thanking God.”

And every day, he takes good care of his new gift. He told parishioners on Sunday that he was just released from wearing a mask, but doctors still want him to be careful around too many people. As parishioners filed out of church, they gave their pastor the “elbow bumps” he requested instead of handshakes and hugs.

They will still have to hold off on the hugs this Sunday. They’ll celebrate the rebirth of their pastor, who will return to full duty the weekend of March 21-22.

He is happy, he said, to be where he belongs, with the people in the Bayou Liberty community who prayed unceasingly for him. “I was born a Filipino,” he said. “But I want to die a Creole.”

Parishioners of St. Genevieve Catholic Church will gather to celebrate Lungay’s ordination as a priest as well as his recent birthday with a potluck at 3 p.m. Sunday at the church, 58203 La. 433, near Slidell.

For information, call the church office at (985) 643-3832.