by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It wasn’t quite like announcing from the loggia at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but for Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, it was the next best thing.
“I’ve always kind of envied that cardinal who got to go out and say ‘Habemus Papam,’ but I can’t say that,” said Archbishop Naumann. “But we do have a bishop. Without further ado, Bishop James Vann Johnston.”
Archbishop Naumann introduced the new bishop-designate and future seventh bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on Sept. 15 at a press conference at the chancery in Downtown Kansas City, Mo.
Bishop Johnston, who will turn 56 on Oct. 16, was born in Knoxville, Tenn. He studied at the University of Tennessee and graduated with a bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering in 1982.
He had a brief career as an electrical engineer in Houston, Texas, before entering St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in 1985. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Knoxville on June 9, 1990. Bishop Johnston was ordained and installed as the bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau on March 31, 2008.
“Pope Francis is known for surprises,” said Bishop Johnston, who will be installed on Nov. 4. “He certainly gave me one several days ago when I was informed by the apostolic nuncio of his decision.”
“I will do my best to live up to the trust that he has placed in me and be the best bishop that I can for you,” he continued. “I pledge to serve you with generosity, kindness and charity. I will strive to be a good shepherd to you so that we can, together, live the truth in love and be effective witnesses to the Gospel of Salvation and the beauty of our Catholic faith.”
Naturally, most of the applause and attention was directed by the mostly Missouri crowd for the new Missouri bishop — but not all of it.
Archbishop Naumann also received a measure of applause and appreciation for his role as apostolic administrator of the diocese after Bishop Robert W. Finn resigned on April 21.
Some of that appreciation came from the bishop-designate.
“I want to offer thanks to several people,” said Bishop Johnston. “I begin with Archbishop Naumann. Thank you, Archbishop, for the wonderful care that you have given to this church of Kansas City-St. Joseph over these past six months as the diocesan administrator.
“Your gentleness, goodness and wisdom have been invaluable during this time,” he continued. “I am truly grateful to you, as well, for the help that you’ve already given me, and I look forward to being your neighbor.”
Acting vicar-general Father Charles N. Rowe, who has worked closely with Archbishop Naumann since last April, was equally appreciative.
“I’m immensely grateful to him,” said Father Rowe. “He has been very dedicated. His wonderful listening ability, his wisdom, his commitment to helping us through this difficult time is just astounding. I’m profoundly grateful, along with everyone else I know, to Archbishop Naumann for his service to the local church.”
Interim chancellor and moderator of the curia Father Kenneth A. Riley said Archbishop Naumann was ideally suited to be administrator for the diocese during its difficult times.
“Archbishop Naumann — as our apostolic administrator — was a gentle guiding presence, served very well and was very attuned,” said Father Riley. “We were very thankful he was already part of the Kansas City metro environment and knew our story, so we didn’t have a lot of down time with history.”
“He stepped right in, made decisions, gave guidance and directions, and really just shepherded us during this . . . interim,” he continued. “He was a kind, gentle, thoughtful leader.”
During the question-and-answer period following his opening statement, Bishop Johnston indicated that he would continue to rely on Archbishop Naumann’s experience, wisdom and good neighborliness.
“As I mentioned earlier, I’ve only known about this for a few days,” said Bishop Johnston. “So I’m going to rely on Archbishop Naumann to fill me in on a lot of the things that await.”