The First Filipino Priest in Kentucky, Part 1
Published on August 15-16, 2015 in the Parish Bulletin of Jesus, Our Savior Catholic Church, Morehead KY
On August 6, 2015, Fr. Noel Zamora assumed the post of Pastor at Jesus, Our Savior Catholic Church in Morehead, its Newman Center at Morehead State University, and its mission, Saint Julie Catholic Church in Owingsville. He will be installed into that office by the Bishop of Lexington, the Most Rev. John Stowe, OFM Conv., during the 10:00 AM Sunday Mass on August 30.
Fr. Noel was born Emmanuel Flores Zamora on April 30, 1977 at his family’s ancestral home in Salapungan, Angeles City, Pampanga, Philippines. The firstborn of the five children of Amelita de Guzman Flores (born 1950) and Jose Manuel Soriano Zamora (born 1947), he grew up in the small barangay of Salapungan with his brothers and sisters: Emir (1979-1979), Ivy (born 1981), Kathreen Kay (born 1986), and Ivan-Lee (born 1991). He was educated in Catholic schools all his life: grade school (1983-1990) and high school (1990-1994) at Holy Angel University in Angeles City, and college at Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City where he graduated Bachelor of Arts in Communication in 1998 with honorable mention.
He was fresh out of college when he began teaching Filipino, English, and Literature for the College of Education at the University of the Assumption in the City of San Fernando in Pampanga. He taught during the week at the university and attended classes during the weekend at the Department of English of Ateneo de Manila to earn a Master of Arts in Literary and Cultural Studies. It was at graduate school that he befriended a masteral student of Philosophy, the now Rev. Santos T. Castillo of the Diocese of Joliet, who encouraged him to discern the Priesthood and a missionary ministry in the United States. In 2001, he applied to be a seminarian for the Catholic Diocese of Lexington. He then left teaching and graduate studies and arrived in Kentucky the day after his twenty-fourth birthday.
After spending a year of discernment at Saint Martha Catholic Church in Prestonsburg and Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Lexington, he was sent to study at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Indiana. He received from the seminary his Master of Arts in Catholic Thought and Life in 2004 and his Master of Divinity in 2007, and was ordained to the Priesthood on May 19, 2007 by the Most Rev. Ronald W. Gainer, JCL, (born 1947) the second Bishop of Lexington (2003-2014), at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington, Kentucky. He is the first Filipino to be ordained a priest in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Fr. Noel first served as the parochial vicar (2007-2009) and the Director of Religious Education (2007-2008) at Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Lexington under the Rev. Joseph N. Muench, Jr. He then began studies in Canon Law in the summer of 2009 at the International Institute of Theological and Tribunal Studies in Los Angeles, California (hosted by the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, Texas since 2014), before he was assigned to be the parochial vicar (2009-2010) of Holy Spirit Parish, the Newman Center at the University of Kentucky under the Rev. Albert J. DeGiacomo.