by Jay Nies
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CNS) — When retiring Bishop John R. Gaydos introduced his successor, he said he has known him for several years and is “extremely pleased that he will be the next bishop of our beautiful Diocese of Jefferson City.”
“As I see it,” Bishop-designate W. Shawn McKnight said, “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.”
Bishop Gaydos and the bishop-designate appeared together at a news conference in Jefferson City Nov. 21, the day Pope Francis accepted Bishop Gaydos’ resignation and named the 49-year-old priest of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, as his successor.
Bishop Gaydos, 74, will serve as apostolic administrator of the diocese and work toward a smooth transition until Bishop-designate McKnight’s episcopal ordination and installation.
He asked Pope Francis to appoint a successor for him, due to health concerns that have diminished his energy. Bishop Gaydos plans to remain in Jefferson City in retirement. At 74, he is just one year shy of the age when canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope. Bishop Gaydos turns 75 next August.
“We’re blessed,” Bishop Gaydos said at the news conference, adding that his successor “brings with him an abundance of gifts and experiences to continue and augment the ministry of Jesus Christ and his church in the heartland of Missouri.”
Born June 26, 1968, the newly named bishop grew up in a large Catholic family — he is the oldest of eight siblings — and he attended Catholic schools. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wichita May 28, 1994.
He holds a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry from the University of Dallas, master of arts and master of theology degrees from the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, and licentiate and doctoral degrees in theology from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm, in Rome.
Ever since he earned a doctorate in sacred theology from St. Anselm in 2001 and wrote a dissertation on the permanent diaconate, “I have been engaged in many activities for the formation of permanent deacons and the promotion of diaconal ministry throughout the country,” the bishop-designate said.
From 2010 to 2015, when he was executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, “I got to know a number of bishops throughout the country, including Bishop Gaydos,” Bishop-designate McKnight noted.
“I had the privilege of working closely with Archbishop Robert 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,” he added.
Having served as a pastor at several parishes, Bishop-designate McKnight said he has seen a number of responsibilities that are important for a bishop to embrace, such as working in communion with the pope and his brother bishops; working collaboratively with the priests, deacons, religious and laity of the diocese to discern “the signs of the times,” and to implement a pastoral plan of action; and fostering a healthy, unified and resilient presbyterate for a flourishing, united and resilient church.
He also spoke of the need to prioritize pastoral care of the family; demonstrate a passion for evangelization, especially for young people; promote the works of charity as an integral part of the mission of the church; make full use of the charisms of the diaconate; and foster and uphold consecrated life and promote vocations to the priesthood.
Bishop-designate McKnight also emphasized the need to take seriously the moral commitment the U.S. Catholic bishops have made in the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
“In our time as a diocese, there are a number of challenging pastoral issues we are facing, but we are not alone or without the help we need,” he said. “We have the deposit of faith, the communion of the church, and the charisms of the people of God.”
Bishop-designate McKnight also emphasized the need to “discern the difficult issues facing our families, our cities and towns, state, country, and our world not as individuals but together as a church.”
Working together with all in the church brings joy to his 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,” he said.
He and Bishop Gaydos asked for prayers from the people of the diocese throughout the transition to a new bishop.