“Our prayers, best wishes and congratulations go to Father W. Shawn McKnight, pastor of the Church of the Magdalen, upon his appointment as the Fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri. We thank our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for choosing yet another of our worthy priests to serve as a bishop in the Church. We receive this appointment as a great honor for our diocese and our priests. May God shower His blessings upon Father McKnight as he now prepares for his episcopal ordination, and may God continue to bless the Diocese of Wichita with excellent priests to serve our diocese and beyond.”
-Most Reverend Bishop Carl A. Kemme
Diocese of Jefferson City
21 November 2017
Rev. W. Shawn McKnight, S.T.D.
Bishop-Elect of Jefferson City
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!
Before I begin introducing myself, I wish to express my gratitude to God the Father, His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit for the many spiritual blessings the Holy Trinity has bestowed on me in my lifetime. I am particularly thankful for my vocation as a priest, unworthy as I am, and the many rich and varied experiences I have had as a diocesan priest. And today is no exception.
I am also grateful for our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who is giving me the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel in the Central and Northeastern counties of Missouri as Bishop of Jefferson City. I pledge my loyalty to Pope Francis and to the College of Bishops in union with him, and I pledge with all my heart to work diligently with the priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, and the laity of the diocese to preserve our apostolic communion with the Universal Church. I pray that our local church may fulfill the vision of Pope Francis for a missionary church, reaching out to the margins with the beauty, truth, and joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I am indebted to Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America, who informed me of the Pope’s appointment a week ago Monday, and who has kindly assisted me this past week.
To you Bishop Gaydos, I am especially grateful for your service of more than 20 years as bishop of our diocese, and that you have been so welcoming and hospitable, helping me to adjust to this very unexpected tectonic shift in my life. Thank you, Bishop Gaydos.
With my appointment to Jefferson City, I will be leaving the Diocese of Wichita which has nourished my faith and vocation as a priest and has served as my home. Being a priest of the Diocese of Wichita has been a joy and the love of my life. I am indebted to Bishop Kemme, my current Ordinary, and to Bishop emeritus Eugene Gerber, who ordained me a transitional deacon and priest. For the fraternity I have enjoyed with my brother priests of Wichita, and for the encourage and support the laity have given me in my many assignments, I owe a great debt of gratitude. And for the Church of the Magdalen, where I am currently serving as Pastor and for whom today’s announcement will be something of a shock, I am very grateful for the time I have had with them to celebrate together the sacraments, to teach the faith, and to serve those in need in our community. One of the highlights of my time with them was the formulation of a pastoral plan based on our reflections and response to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, in which three key priorities were given: formation for evangelization; reaching out to the margins; and the promotion of active service, personal prayer and participation in the liturgy. The parishioners of Church of the Magdalen have been such a blessing to me. While I still have a couple more months to be with them, I ask God to bless them as they continue to be a community of stewards for Christ.
And finally, I would be very remiss not to mention my gratitude to my family, especially my parents, who handed on the Catholic faith to me in our home, who imparted a sense of stewardship, and who supported my call to the priesthood. Without them, I would not be here today. Thank you, Mom and Dad.
As I see it, Pope Francis is not so much giving the Diocese of Jefferson City to me, but rather he is giving me to you in service to God to teach, sanctify and shepherd the people of our local church. This is my first time to visit the diocese (apart from driving through Missouri on I-70), so I have a lot yet to learn and experience about my new home. When Pope Francis said we are called to be missionaries, I guess he really meant it for this priest coming from central Kansas! Bishop Gaydos informed me that I will be the first bishop of Jefferson City to be appointed from outside Missouri. Your new bishop-elect eagerly anticipates the opportunities we will have over the coming weeks and months to get to know one another. I am especially keen to learn how we are evangelizing those in our community, especially the youth, and how we are promoting a culture of vocations among them. I anticipate that there will be opportunities for me to hear from the priests, deacons, religious and laity about your hopes and aspirations for our church.
I also look forward to establishing new friendships with members of the other Christian communities of our diocese, especially their leaders. It was the desire of our Lord at the Last Supper that we all be one in Him, and so it is our obligation to work towards greater unity in what we believe, how we pray, and how we manifest our faith in action.
I want to work with people of Non-Christian faiths, too, especially the Jewish and Muslim communities in our area, to promote mutual respect and appreciation for one another.
With our governmental officials who hold the people’s trust in civil society, I plan to work cooperatively with them to bring about greater peace, justice, the defense of human life and dignity, and the protection of religious freedom within our communities.
Having been raised in a large Catholic family, the oldest of 8 children, and having attended Catholic schools all the way through college, I can look back now and recognize more clearly how important my social environment enabled me to hear the call to the ministerial priesthood, and how it empowered me to respond in faith. I had the blessing of many good priests in my life, especially during the critical time period of my high school and college years. Support from my parents and extended family was very important as I discerned my priestly vocation; and the encouragement I felt from priests, religious sisters, and fellow parishioners gave me the courage to take a leap of faith and to give my life to Christ in service to his church. I have never regretted answering the call. I encourage all our youth to be open to the call of God, whatever it may be, and to take seriously our baptismal call to sacrificial love.
In my 23 years as a priest, more than half my priesthood has been spent on assignments outside my home diocese. A few years after ordination, I spent three years in Rome studying sacramental theology, and I wrote a dissertation on the permanent diaconate under the guidance of Fr. James Puglisi, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement and the Director of the Ecumenical Center in Rome. Ever since then, I have been engaged in many activities for the formation of permanent deacons and the promotion of diaconal ministry throughout the country. Following my first pastorate, I was appointed to teach liturgy and homiletics at the Pontifical College Josephinum Seminary. And then following a short stint as pastor again, I served at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as executive director of the secretariat for clergy, consecrated life and vocations. In this capacity, I got to know a number of bishops throughout the country, including Bishop Gaydos. I had the privilege of working closely with Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, who served as the Chairman of the Committee I staffed, especially in the development of the USCCB document Preaching the Mystery of Faith. I look forward to working closely with Archbishop Carlson again as our Metropolitan and in the Missouri Catholic Conference.
In my breadth of service as a diocesan priest, I have seen for myself the importance for a bishop of a diocese:
- To work in communion with the Holy Father and his brother bishops;
- To work collaboratively with his priests, deacons, religious, and laity of his diocese in the discernment of “the signs of the times,” and to implement a pastoral plan of action;
- To foster a healthy, unified and resilient presbyterate for a flourishing, united and resilient church;
- To prioritize the pastoral care of the family;
- To have a passion for evangelization, especially of our youth;
- To take seriously the moral commitment the bishops of the United States have made in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People;
- To promote the works of charity as an integral part of the mission of the Church;
- To nurture a welcoming environment within the church for the various cultures;
- To utilize fully the charisms of the diaconate;
- To foster and uphold consecrated life as a special gift of God to the church;
- And to promote vocations to the diocesan priesthood for service in his church.
As a diocese, we have a number of challenging pastoral issues, but we are not alone or without the help we need. We have the Deposit of Faith, the communion of the Church, and the charisms of the People of God. We must discern the difficult issues facing our families, parishes and Catholic schools, our cities and towns, our state and country, and our world not as individuals but together as a Church. And working together is what brings joy to my heart. I hope and pray that in being a bishop for you, you may tangibly see my personal faith and love for Christ, and for you his people.
I ask for your prayers for me and Bishop Gaydos in this time of transition between now and my ordination and installation on February 6th in St. Joseph Cathedral. Please know that you are all now in my daily prayers. I entrust us to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose Presentation we celebrate today, to be our safeguard in the faith, now and forever. Amen.