by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Many, many people were delighted to hear the Sept. 15 announcement that Pope Francis has appointed Bishop James Vann Johnston, currently the Bishop of Springfield- Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to serve as the new bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Just a few days before, one of the senior priests of Kansas City-St. Joseph thanked me for my service as the apostolic administrator, but observed that it was an odd and unsettling feeling to be without their own bishop.
I have known Bishop Johnston since he was appointed to serve as the bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in 2008. He is an exceptional bishop and, in my opinion, an outstanding choice to lead the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese.
Several years ago, I was talking with a member of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, who expressed her admiration and affection for Bishop Johnston. Among other things she said, “Bishop Johnston is the way I imagine a young Pope John Paul.” I am not sure he is destined to be a pope or canonized a saint, but it is quite a compliment to be considered in that league.
Bishop Johnston has a keen mind and is a gifted teacher. He is able to make what seems complex very understandable. He epitomizes the qualities that Pope Francis desires in bishops. He is prayerful, humble, hard-working, and strives to be close to those he has been called to lead. In the words of Pope Francis, he smells like his sheep.
It has been a great privilege for me to serve the past few months as the administrator for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese. I will continue to serve in that capacity until Bishop Johnston’s installation in early November.
The priests, deacons, religious and laity have been extraordinarily welcoming, encouraging and supportive. I have been very impressed with the dedication and zeal of the diocesan staff. I believe I learned a great deal from the Catholic community in northwestern Missouri that hopefully will help me become a better bishop for the people of northeast Kansas.
When people have asked me what it’s like serving two dioceses, I replied that I have a greater respect for mothers of twins. While it has been a bit exhausting and I worried that I was not doing an adequate job on either side of State Line Road, it has also been energizing and inspiring.
One of the things that I love about being a priest and a bishop is that it brings you into association with some amazingly faith-filled and loving people.
I am deeply grateful to the diocesan staffs of both the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Their support and hard work made it possible for me to lead both dioceses.
A few examples of some of the practices in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese that impressed me were: 1) 17 new seminarians and 10 priestly ordinations; 2) the bishop sends a card of condolence to every family that has experienced a recent death of a loved one; 3) the lamentation and healing services encouraging prayer for abuse victims and their families.
The responsibilities of a diocesan administrator can be compared to the role of John the Baptist. Administrators are charged with preparing the way for the next bishop. I hope in some small ways my service as administrator will make Bishop Johnston’s first days in the diocese a little bit less daunting.
My sense is that the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are eager and ready to welcome their new bishop.
If my calculations are correct, Bishop Johnston’s installation will occur on the same day as the seventh game of the World Series. Not to worry about any conflict — it is a night game and the installation liturgy is in the afternoon.
Besides, it should not be a problem because the Royals are destined to win in four, unless it is an I-70 Series. In that case, I hope it goes seven! It is a great time to be in the Kansas City region!