The Rev. Jean-Rene Kalombo has a daily routine of walking a nearly 5-mile roundtrip from Fourth Street to Kroger inside Wesleyan Park Plaza.

That built-up cardio came in handy on Saturday when the 56-year-old pastor of SS. Joseph and Paul Catholic Church pursued a thief on foot for at least 10 blocks.

Kalombo said the church was a hosting a women's retreat with about 100 attending at the time a man, later identified as 56-year-old Jeffery Woods, entered the parish hall asking for the priest.

"They told him I was busy because I was in the parish hall doing prayer," Kalombo said.

However, Woods was seen wandering into an area where about 30 to 40 purses were placed on a table.

"…I went to check to see what was going on outside the parish hall," Kalombo said. "I saw a lady who told me she saw somebody who stole some money and a purse and walked away."

Although the police were called, Kalombo decided to chase Woods.

"The police asked me to stay in the same place but I said I couldn't because I had to run after the thief," Kalombo said. "I started walking and sometimes running after him. …And when the man saw me and realized I was chasing him, he started walking very fast."

After about a mile, Kalombo was able to catch up to Woods.

Kalombo said he managed to pull the purse and money away from Woods. The purse contained cash, a car key and multiple credit cards.

"The man also had a backpack and I also wanted to know what was inside, because maybe it has another purse that belonged to one of the ladies," Kalombo said. "He didn't want me to take his backpack but I kept walking with him. At 16th Street, I grabbed the backpack and he tried to force me to let him go. But I was able to get the backpack."

Kalombo followed Woods for another block until Owensboro Police Department officers arrived. The backpack contained shoes and other items belonging to Woods, who is listed as homeless, but nothing else from the church.

Kalombo said he was worried about his safety but he was more concerned about his parishioners.

"I am a pastor and I have to protect and to defend my people -- that was my worry no matter the cost," Kalombo said. "The guy became very, very aggressive. He was about to hit me many times."

Andrew Boggess, OPD's public information officer, said Woods admitted to stealing the money and purse and he was charged with felony theft over $500 from a building.

"That was potentially dangerous for him to do and we don't encourage it," said Boggess about Kalombo pursuing Woods. "But it obviously worked out in his favor."

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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