Bishop reflects on first five years leading Diocese of Knoxville, praises strong example set by St. Joseph
On the fifth anniversary of his ordination and installation as the Diocese of Knoxville’s third shepherd, Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral on March 19, which also is the feast day for St. Joseph.
Joined by parishioners, Chancery staff, Religious Sisters of Mercy and Dominican sisters, as well as priests and deacons, Bishop Stika delivered a homily praising St. Joseph for his quiet, solid strength in the face of many challenges as an extraordinary husband to Mary and stepfather to Jesus.
“As I think of St. Joseph, I think of someone strong, quiet, but in the very essence of himself being a person of dignity,” the bishop said. “How many quotes can you pull from Scripture about St. Joseph? Zero, but he was chosen by God to be the very person to love the Blessed Mother, to love Mary with everything that he was, and even more than that, he was the one of all humanity and all history who was chosen by God to teach Jesus how to be human and even more than that, to be a man.
“It is with St. Joseph that I’ve had a good relationship with since I was a little kid. I’ve got all these holy cards of St. Joseph throughout the time since first grade.”
The bishop recalled being asked what his goal was for his ministry when he arrived in the diocese five years ago.
“Basically I said, just to teach Jesus and hopefully to teach Jesus with certain significant things: to be Christ for others using our hands, and our voice, and our face, our very essence of who we are to reach out to others in charity, to have a smile on our face,” he said. “But you know, one of the things I left out when I used to say to teach Jesus, to be his face and his voice and his feet, it was pointed out to me last week: I forgot to say to be the heart of Christ. See, that’s the element that draws it all together.”
Bishop Stika’s first year in the diocese was “really challenging,” he said, “especially with the death of [his executive secretary] Nancy Feist, who was so loyal and so faithful to Archbishop [Joseph E.] Kurtz and for me for just two months; then my little health scare in August. I often kid about that, for without that health scare, I wouldn’t have the Sisters of Mercy of Alma. I gave my right eye, literally, to get them here.”
The Alma sisters originally came to assist the bishop in his recovery to full health.
Bishop Stika also recognized the other sisters in attendance.
“To the Dominican Sisters when I see them, they bring back memories of my grade school years when I was taught by the Sparkill Dominicans, who look just like them,” he said. “And then to the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary who I see, who have come as missionaries from Africa to be with us: Sisters, you’re a blessing to us because you remind us of the universal nature of the Church.
“And to the foundation of this diocese, the Sisters of Mercy, who have given so much throughout the years, not only to the Diocese of Knoxville but also to the Catholic Church in Tennessee and throughout the nation.”
The bishop also remembered Cardinal Justin Rigali, who resides in the diocese but was out of town during the fifth-anniversary celebration.
“In a very special way I remember Archbishop [Pietro] Sambi, the nuncio who installed me, who died suddenly just a few years ago. I remember Pope-emeritus Benedict, who made me a bishop, and Pope Francis, who reminds us all of what it means to be a Christian caring for one another.”
Bishop Stika looked back on his selection of an episcopal motto: “Jesus, I trust in you.”
“Isn’t that what we’re all about?” he said. “In a world filled with difficulties and challenges and temptations, what gives us all strength? The ability to say from the very depths of our hearts, ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’”
Bishop Stika thanked the priests and deacons as well as the women religious for their service.
“To my brother priests, please know my great affection and friendship,” he said. “If I’ve ever disappointed you or made mistakes, they were never intentional, for I always try to do my best, so I count on your prayers and your brotherly friendship.
“To my brother deacons, hey, I was ordained a deacon before I was a priest; I still belong to that union. So it’s a reminder to everyone that we’re co-workers in Christ. And to the religious, you are a blessing to us, but especially to all of you, I know that life is busy, and I appreciate that you’re here. Just please know that I need your prayers and I pray for you. And again to you, I apologize if I’ve made mistakes or errors, and I just ask for your prayers for me so that I might get better.”
In his closing remarks, the bishop thanked executive secretary Peggy Humphreys.
“Actually, Peggy runs the diocese. She has to put up with a lot, and she works long hours, and she is truly the voice of Jesus to so many people coming into my office and into my life, and I don’t thank Peggy enough for all that she does. And the Chancery staff—they do so much and they participate in my ministry as bishop, but they’re wonderful people, and I’m privileged to serve with them as I am with the priests and deacons and also [Chancellor] Deacon Sean Smith, who’s kind of my right-hand man.”
Bishop Stika then thanked people in the diocese for their support and prayers. The bishop said the diocese is “truly a special place.”
“Even if I was elected pope, I would turn it down and stay here, even though I would be the second Polish pope.”
In an interview with WBIR-TV, Channel 10 before Mass, Bishop Stika said he enjoys promoting the diocese around the country when he travels.
“Outside my bedroom door, there’s a rough-cut sign, but it says, ‘Another day in paradise,’” the bishop told the news outlet. “I often think the people in East Tennessee don’t realize what a beautiful surrounding this is, but they’re beautiful people, they’re truly hospitable, and from the first day I’ve felt a member of this community, and it’s been a wonderful expression of solidarity with the people I’m privileged to serve with, and I brag about Tennessee and the diocese all the time when I travel across the country.”
The bishop told WBIR he also “brags on the St. Louis Cardinals” but is a University of Tennessee sports fan as well.
“I was a Tennessee fan from the moment I was named. I wear more orange than I ever thought I would.”
The people of the diocese “are just wonderful, and I think they need to hear that more because they are,” the bishop said in the interview. “It’s a great mixture of people born in the state as well as people who have come from different places like myself. But I hear that time and time again from people that when they first move to Tennessee they feel at home.”