by Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has a bishop.
But Bishop Batman?
That was one of the many lines that caught the packed congregation by surprise as Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. addressed his diocese for the first time during his installation ceremony Nov. 4 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Bishop Johnston told the congregation he hails from the hill country of Tennessee and now finds himself living in bishop’s quarters inside the 10-story Catholic Center, smack in the middle of downtown Kansas City.
“No more gardening in the backyard,” he said. “No more bird feeders. I’m not sure pigeons are really birds.”
But there are advantages to the 19th-century building, including the huge bronze casting of an eagle by one of history’s most renowned American artists, Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
“I do have an outdoor terrace in the building where I now live,” he said. “I’ve been out there at night and look out over the city streets from behind that big bronze eagle and I feel like . . . Batman.”
Bishop Johnston told the congregation that he chose the feast of St. Charles Borromeo as the date of his installation for a reason, as he told them gently his vision and model as bishop.
“One is struck by the fact that he was a man for the times that he lived in,” Bishop Johnston said of the 16th- century cardinal-archbishop of Milan.
“He wisely brought about needed reforms in the church during a time of chaos and confusion, not only in the church but in the world, a world plagued by political turmoil and a world plagued, literally, by the plague,” he said.
“What is sometimes overlooked is that St. Charles relied heavily on others to help him. He called forth many collaborators and together they got to work to set in motion movements and institutions that continue to bear fruit in the church today,” he added.
“St. Charles is a wonderful model for me and all bishops,” Bishop Johnston said.
As he began his homily, Bishop Johnston thanked Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson of the metropolitan see of the Missouri province, and the more than two dozen bishops and archbishops from around the country — including Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — for their presence that day inside Kansas City’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Bishop Johnston promised never to forget his first see, the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.
“What a gift and blessing it has been to serve as the bishop of Springfield- Cape Girardeau for these past seven-and-a-half years,” he said. “I will always love the church and the people of southern Missouri.”
He thanked the Eternal Word Television Network for broadcasting the installation Mass. Both his mother and his ailing father could watch their son back home in Tennessee.
He turned to Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, who served as apostolic administrator of the Missouri diocese since April, while continuing as leader of his own see on the Kansas side.
“I wish to convey on behalf of the faithful in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph our deep, deep gratitude for the selfless, wise and generous service of our diocesan administrator, Archbishop Joseph Naumann,” he said.
Bishop Johnston also asked the people of Kansas City-St. Joseph to remember his predecessor.
“I ask all of you to continue to support in prayer and kindness Bishop Robert Finn, whom I am succeeding today,” he said. “As he seeks to serve and do God’s will in new ways, may God bless him and those he will serve in the days and years ahead.”
“Since being named your bishop,” Bishop Johnston said, “I’ve been asked many times about what I’m going to do about healing and bringing unity.”
The real work of healing is not his, the bishop said.
“Jesus is the true healer and, at best, a bishop is merely a physician’s assistant,” Bishop Johnston said.
“Jesus and only Jesus is our healer and source of unity. If we forget this, the church becomes just another human organization, prone to factions and arguments,” he continued.
“The good news for us is the same good news that’s been there from the outset, and it’s mentioned at the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel,’” Bishop Johnston said.
“This is where I begin with you as your new bishop,” he said. “Our task is twofold — to repent and to believe.
“This is where we each begin anew, and where we must continually return — to repentance and belief, and this is how the church is renewed and becomes healthy and holy and fruitful.”