‘Patterned after the person of our Lord’

Fr. Mark Beckman named diocese’s new bishop

By Bill Brewer and Dan McWilliams

Pope Francis reached into the ranks of Tennessee priests to select the Diocese of Knoxville’s next bishop.

Bishop-elect James Mark Beckman was introduced on May 7 as the fourth shepherd of the Church in East Tennessee immediately following an announcement by the Holy Father.

Bishop-elect Beckman, 61, is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville who has served as pastor of St. Henry Parish in West Nashville since 2015. He grew up in Lawrenceburg in Middle Tennessee’s Lawrence County, which borders Alabama.

When ordained and installed on Friday, July 26, he will be the Diocese of Knoxville’s first bishop from Tennessee.

The announcement of Bishop-elect Beckman’s appointment first came from Rome in the early morning hours of May 7, and it was formally announced soon after in Washington, D.C., by Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop-elect Beckman was then formally introduced during a morning press conference at the Diocese of Knoxville Chancery.

“I am blessed and honored to accept this appointment from the Holy Father,” Bishop-elect Beckman said. “I am a native Tennessean, and I am grateful that I can continue serving the Church and now the faithful of the Diocese of Knoxville in this region that I know well and love tremendously.”

Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre of the Archdiocese of Louisville will continue to lead the Diocese of Knoxville as apostolic administrator until Bishop-elect Beckman’s episcopal ordination and installation.

“I have known Bishop-elect Beckman for a long time,” Archbishop Fabre said. “We were seminarians together at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium, many years ago. I believe in my heart that he will be a good shepherd for the faithful of the Diocese of Knoxville.”

Who is Father Mark Beckman?

Bishop-elect Beckman was born on Oct. 19, 1962, in Lawrenceburg, which is located within the Diocese of Nashville. He attended Sacred Heart School and Lawrence County High School, both in Lawrenceburg, before earning a bachelor’s degree in history from St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa, in 1984. He also received a master’s degree in religious studies from the Catholic University in Belgium in 1988.

Bishop-elect Mark Beckman, standing, concelebrated Mass in the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on May 7 shortly after he was introduced as the Diocese of Knoxville’s new bishop. It was the bishop-elect’s first time in the cathedral, where the chair of the bishop, or the cathedra, is placed. Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre, seated center, was the Mass celebrant. Deacon Sean Smith, seated left, served as deacon of the Word. (Photo Dan McWilliams)

He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Nashville by Bishop James D. Niedergeses on July 13, 1990. He has served as associate pastor and pastor of several Diocese of Nashville parishes and as a high school teacher and associate principal.

Bishop-elect Beckman’s additional service for the Diocese of Nashville has included being a member of the presbyteral council, a member of the diocesan clergy personnel board, director of the diocesan youth office, a member of the priests’ vocation advisory council, a member of the college of consultors, dean of the Northwest Deanery and Central Deanery, chaplain of Knights of Columbus Council 11925, and state chaplain for the Knights of Columbus.

He also has served as director of priest personnel for the Diocese of Nashville since 2018, where he has worked closely with the diocese’s presbyterate.

“While our own hearts are saddened by the departure of such a dear friend and collaborator in ministry, we are joyful for our brothers and sisters in our neighboring diocese who are receiving such a kind, faithful, and capable new shepherd,” said Bishop J. Mark Spalding of the Diocese of Nashville.

Bishop Spalding and Bishop John C. Iffert of the Diocese of Covington, Ky., were on hand at the Chancery press conference in support of their friend and fellow priest.

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph E. Kurtz, who served as archbishop of Louisville from 2007-22 and was the Diocese of Knoxville’s second bishop from 1999-2007, offered his congratulations to a pastor who will follow in his footsteps in East Tennessee.

“I join with Archbishop Fabre and the faithful of the Diocese of Knoxville in rejoicing at the appointment of Bishop-elect J. Mark Beckman as the fourth bishop of Knoxville. I have had the privilege of knowing Bishop-elect Beckman for the last 25 years and hold him in great admiration as a holy and dedicated priest. May he serve Christ and the faithful of the Diocese of Knoxville well for many years to come,” Archbishop Emeritus Kurtz said.

Bishop-elect Beckman is an avid hiker and said he plans to continue his passion for the outdoors while serving in the Diocese of Knoxville, which is blessed with many hiking trails. Also, he shared that the color orange runs in his family.

News of his appointment was met with joy and sadness in the diocese where he has always called home. Many Middle Tennessee parishioners and friends offered their best wishes and prayers for success.

“Over the years I have made many friends in the Diocese of Nashville, and I have much gratitude for the support they’ve given me. I look forward to nurturing the same meaningful relationships with the Catholic community in East Tennessee,” Bishop-elect Beckman said. “This is a wonderful diocese, and I am thrilled to be part of its future.”

Questions and answers

Bishop-elect Beckman was met by questions from the media about leading the Diocese of Knoxville.

In response to a question about what he would like to say to his current parishioners, he replied, “To my current parishioners in Nashville, I love you. I’m going to miss you, and I thank you for journeying with me these past nine years.”

He also was asked what his episcopal motto will be. He answered that he continues to pray what that will be.

When asked whether he hopes the diocese can heal from recent events that have cast a negative light, the bishop-elect responded, “I’m grateful for your question. The importance of healing is central to the Gospel, so one of the things that Jesus did very often was He healed people. And we are wounded as we journey through life. I know that there are wounds in this place, as there are everywhere, and one of the most important things a good shepherd does is communicate the healing presence of Christ. So, I will humbly ask the Lord to help me to do that. I remember Pope Francis, early in his pontificate, spoke about the Church being a field hospital, and unless we take care of the wounded, we’re not going to be able to do much more than that, so that will be very important.”

When asked what he would like to say to his predecessor, Bishop Richard F. Stika, Bishop-elect Beckman replied, “I do want to thank him for his years as shepherd of this diocese. Any time you are called to do something by the Lord, it requires a great gift and a great responsibility. Yes, I know that being a shepherd involves carrying a burden. So, thank you, I want to say to him, for carrying that burden for the years he has been bishop, and the joys.”

Bishop-elect Mark Beckman is interviewed by media members during a press conference announcing the Nashville priest as the next bishop of Knoxville. (Photo Gabrielle Nolan)

The bishop-elect also was asked what his initial thoughts were on receiving the episcopal appointment.

“Oh, my. Honestly, fear and terror first. I wanted to say to the Lord, ‘Lord, are you sure you are asking me to do this?’ When I became pastor at my current parish of St. Henry, it was twice the size of the parish I had been in before. I felt overwhelmed at the beginning, and I went to our principal, Sister Ann Hyacinth (Genow, OP), and I said, ‘I think God thinks I have bigger shoulders than I do.’ And she said, ‘Father, that’s because you’re not meant to carry it alone. Christ is going to carry it with you,’” he said.

“This week, I had to, because I’ve never been a bishop. I’m overwhelmed a bit by this whole prospect; I really had to ask the Lord for the grace to have clarity and peace and to help Him to remove some of that fear I was feeling. And once the Lord began to free me from some of that fear, then I began to feel joy and excitement about coming. Last evening when I drove over, the excitement and joy deepened. With each person who has welcomed me, that joy has deepened even further,” he added.

When asked what his interests are both within the Church and outside of the Church, he responded, “In the Church, I love being a pastor. I love shepherding God’s people. I love doing spiritual direction. I love celebrating the Eucharist, all the sacraments. I love teaching, and I enjoy adult faith formation. I learned how to teach—high-school students taught me how to teach. If you don’t engage high-school students, you can’t teach well. Inside the Church, those are the things I love the most.”

“Outside things that I love the most would undoubtedly be hiking and being in God’s creation. When I walk out into the woods, I feel a deep sense of peace and connection with God. I’m deeply grateful to be closer to the Great Smoky Mountains, but Father [David] Boettner assured me there are trails that are closer and less crowded. There are closer paths. I do enjoy that. I enjoy reading, I enjoy films, good books, but I don’t have as much time to do those kind of things as I once did,” he continued.

A close family

The bishop-elect comforted many East Tennesseans when he disclosed that his family have been “huge fans of the Big Orange” for decades.

He went on to explain that his family includes his parents, three brothers, and two sisters as well as nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, and aunts and uncles, many of whom live in Middle Tennessee.

When asked what his parents’ reactions were when they learned of his appointment, he said, “Both of them I think were overjoyed and shocked and head-spinning. My mother has a great intuition, and she just put her arms over her chest, and she said, ‘I knew it. I just knew it.’ How did you know that, Mom? And my dad said, ‘Well, I’ve known it for years, three or four years I’ve known.’ Thank you, Dad. They are a true gift to me. My whole family is a true gift to me.”

Bishop-elect Beckman and Archbishop Fabre distribute Communion at Mass. (Photo Gabrielle Nolan)

Following the press conference, Bishop-elect Beckman concelebrated Mass in the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which will be the seat of his bishopric. Archbishop Fabre served as the celebrant. Also concelebrating the Mass were Father Doug Owens, pastor of All Saints Parish in Knoxville who has been serving as Archbishop Fabre’s apostolic delegate in the diocese; Father David Boettner, rector of the cathedral; Father Martin Gladysz, cathedral associate pastor; and Father Jhon Mario Garcia, cathedral associate pastor. Deacon Sean Smith served as deacon of the Word, and Deacon Walt Otey served as deacon of the altar.

During Mass, Bishop-elect Beckman received an enthusiastic ovation from the congregation when he was introduced by Archbishop Fabre. “Bishop-elect, I know you will find across the Diocese of Knoxville as warm a welcome as you have received here and wonderful people whom you will serve as bishop and chief shepherd,” the archbishop said.

The archbishop invited Bishop-elect Beckman to address the congregation during his first Mass in the cathedral.

“It is a joy to be in this church. When I arrived last evening, I went to the cathedral rectory. And the rector showed me the cathedral in the distance. The joy of being close to this place was already in my heart at that moment. But today is the first time I’ve entered this church. And to do so for this liturgy is a tremendous gift. As I looked at your faces, you are the living stones of the Church of God. You are God’s people, and I am so grateful that the Lord has called me to be your shepherd. I look forward to the journey ahead. God bless you,” the bishop-elect said.

The Gospel reading for May 7 was John 16:5-11 in which Jesus said to his disciples “… it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Bishop-elect Mark Beckman, left, and Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre share a joyful moment before the May 7 press conference announcing the new bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville. (Photo Bill Brewer)

Archbishop Fabre said he couldn’t help but compare the reading to the day’s events.

“It would be incredibly easy for me on this day of great rejoicing to take Jesus’ words and say it is better for you that I go,” he said as he smiled and gestured to Bishop-elect Beckman, “So that he (Bishop-elect Beckman) might come. But I’m not going to do that. That would be too easy. And I think the Lord desires to challenge us. But I must admit that was the first thought that crossed my mind when I prayed through this Gospel this morning.”

“It is better for you that I go,” the archbishop chuckled.

The archbishop has been serving as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Knoxville since June 27, when the diocese’s third shepherd, Bishop Richard F. Stika, resigned.

Archbishop Fabre has prayed unceasingly for a new bishop to be appointed for East Tennessee. Pope Francis did not have to look far to answer those prayers and many others like them.

And after parishioners throughout the diocese have been saying a specific prayer for a new bishop at each Mass since last summer, that prayer was updated on May 7 to say:

“Praise to you, Lord our God, our Eternal Shepherd and Guide, who has chosen your servant, Mark Beckman, as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville.

“As he prepares to take up his role as our pastor and teacher, may your Holy Spirit fill his heart with wisdom and strength, gentleness and compassion, so that he may always walk in your ways and be a true shepherd after Your own heart.

“As Bishop-elect Beckman prepares to make his home with us, help us to welcome him with joy, and be attentive to his guidance so that he may lead us in being Christ’s heart of mercy, voice of hope, and hands of justice, so that we together may build up your Holy Church.

“We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

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