Once upon a time: Pray that God will grant the increase

Taking a look at the bishops among us provides hope in the future of the Church

By Monsignor Xavier Mankel

Sometimes comparisons can be helpful.

Take dioceses as an example. The Diocese of Memphis has 10,682 square miles and 64,064 Catholics. The Diocese of Nashville has 16,302 square miles and 79,778 Catholics. And our “baby” Diocese of Knoxville, formed on Sept. 8, 1988, has 14,242 square miles and 66,844 Catholics.

The bishops of Memphis, Most Rev. J. Terry Steib, SVD; of Nashville, Most Rev. David R. Choby; and our own bishop of Knoxville, Most Rev. Richard Frank Stika, have a special place in our hearts.

Some others deserve special mention: Samuel Cardinal Stritch from Assumption Parish in Nashville; Knoxville’s own Francis Raymond Shea, who attended Holy Ghost School in the 1920s and was the third bishop of Evansville, Ind.; Bishop Joseph A. Durick was born in Dayton, Tenn.; and Bishop James D. Niedergeses led congregations in Chattanooga before becoming the ninth bishop of Nashville in 1975.

Perhaps at the top of any list of bishops from the contemporary American Church would be Knoxville’s own Most Rev. James Vann Johnston Jr. from Holy Ghost Parish and a graduate of Knoxville Catholic High School and St. Joseph Elementary School, and a former assistant pastor at several East Tennessee parishes. He was serving as pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Alcoa when the Holy Father appointed him the bishop of Springfield–Cape Girardeau, Mo., where he has served until recently being appointed bishop of Kansas City–St. Joseph, Mo. His installation is scheduled for November.

Bishop Johnston’s parents and two sisters live in Knoxville and attend St. John Neumann Church in Farragut. His brother lives in Jackson, Tenn.

Like the diocese he is leaving (25,719 square miles and 66,255 Catholics), the Diocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph has two cathedrals and covers 15,429 square miles with a Catholic population of 128,364, so travel still will occupy much of the good bishop’s time. His new diocese includes 25 diocesan schools and one private Catholic elementary school, two colleges, three diocesan and parish high schools, and four private high schools, so Bishop Johnston’s ability as a teacher will be put to good use.

How can one human being do all this? He can’t, unless he partners with the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother of God. Then, with lots of prayer and hard work, all things are possible.

Bishop Johnston is part of the Church in the United States that is aware of the obligations of stewardship and enthusiasm for Catholic schools. There is still lots of work to be done, but the efforts of the past two-and-a-quarter centuries are paying off. It must give a thrill to all those who love the Church to see her recent history in so many places. While the prophets try to predict our future, it is comforting to know that in the new bishop of Kansas City–St. Joseph a gift has been given the Church in the person of Bishop James Vann Johnston Jr. May the Lord grant him length of days!

It’s not a bed of roses. People still leave the Church at alarming rates; infant baptisms are down; and we still have a shortage of those studying for the priesthood.

One strength of the past 50 years we still do not have back are the good sisters in our schools. We have lay teachers, and they are excellent. But the spirituality and way of life that religious life adds to the Church still is needed. It’s not money; it’s faith. Pray that God will grant the increase.

Monsignor Mankel is a vicar general and historical archivist for the Diocese of Knoxville.

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