Mark Zimmermann, Catholic Standard Editor
Pope Francis on Dec. 5 named Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout to be the new bishop of Richmond, Virginia. Bishop Knestout, who will be Richmond’s 13th bishop, succeeds Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, who headed that diocese from 2004 until his death on Aug. 17.
The appointment was announced in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
For the past 10 years, Bishop Knestout has served as Moderator of the Curia for the Archdiocese of Washington, the “chief of staff” for its central offices, where he assisted Cardinal Donald Wuerl in managing and overseeing all of the archdiocese’s administrative affairs. He served as co-chair of the Papal Visit Planning Committees for the visits of Pope Benedict XVI to Washington in 2008 and of Pope Francis to the nation’s capital in 2015.
When Cardinal Wuerl convoked the first Archdiocesan Synod for the Archdiocese of Washington to mark its 75th anniversary in 2014, Bishop Knestout served as chair of the General Preparatory Commission for the synod, a widespread consultative effort among local Catholics from different backgrounds who helped chart a blueprint for the Church’s future outreach in the areas of worship, education, community, service and stewardship/administration.
“During all of this time, he has demonstrated his pastoral skills, his commitment to the Church and her teaching, and his devoted service to those entrusted to his care,” said Cardinal Wuerl in a statement. The cardinal said that Richmond’s new bishop would carry with him “the affection, respect and admiration of all of us with whom he so generously gave his time and efforts.”
The cardinal said Bishop Knestout played a key role in helping the Archdiocese of Washington stabilize and revitalize its schools, expand the outreach of its Catholic Charities, and in the opening of its new Saint John Paul II Seminary in 2011.
In Richmond, Bishop Knestout will lead the nation’s eighth oldest Catholic diocese, which was founded in 1820 and includes 222,283 Catholics in a 36,711 square mile area in 74 counties in the southern three-fifths of Virginia.
Bishop Knestout, a 55-year-old native of Cheverly, Maryland, grew up attending St. Pius X Parish in Bowie. After earning a degree in architecture from the University of Maryland and working in that field, he entered Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg and was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1989. In 2008, Pope Benedict named him as an auxiliary bishop of Washington, and Bishop Knestout was ordained as a bishop at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle by then-Archbishop Wuerl.
At that time, Archbishop Wuerl praised the new bishop as a “native son of this archdiocese” known for his “patient and kind manner” and pastoral approach to ministry.
After being named a bishop in 2008, Bishop Knestout chose “Christ Our Hope” as his episcopal motto, reflecting the theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s pastoral visit to Washington that he had helped plan that year, that was highlighted by a papal Mass attended by about 50,000 people from across the archdiocese and from around the country at the newly opened Nationals Park.
The son of Deacon Thomas Knestout and Caroline Knestout, he grew up in a family of nine children – with three sisters and five brothers, including his twin brother Thomas, born about five minutes after him. Deacon Thomas Knestout, who headed the archdiocesan Office for the Permanent Diaconate for many years, died in 1997, and Caroline Knestout is a retired nurse.
In a 1989 interview just before his ordination to the priesthood, he said his family’s example of love and faith played a key role in his vocation. Deacon Knestout would bring his children along with him as he ministered to a hospital that served people with disabilities.
“I was a seventh grader (then). He (dad) would cart us along, my brothers and me… We as a family felt very much a part of his vocation,” said the future bishop, who added that he was also inspired by the “quiet service” of his mom.
Bishop Knestout’s brother, Father Mark Knestout, was ordained as a priest of the archdiocese in 1998 and now serves as the pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Bethesda, Maryland. The brothers worked together on the planning team for Pope Benedict’s visit, with Father Mark Knestout serving as the principal coordinator for the liturgy for the papal Mass at Nationals Park.
“All my siblings have always been both loving family and true friends,” said Bishop Knestout.
He has also credited the foundation he received as a student at St. Pius X Regional School in Bowie, where he graduated in 1976.
In Washington, Bishop Knestout has had the distinction of being a close aide to three cardinal archbishops. He served as priest secretary to Cardinal James Hickey from 1994 until the prelate’s death in 2004. At Cardinal Hickey’s funeral Mass, then-Msgr. Knestout gave the eulogy, praising him as “a man of the Church… (who) gave his life in service to the Church.”
In 2001 and again from 2003-04, the future bishop also served as a priest secretary to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, now the archbishop emeritus of Washington. Bishop Knestout has said he admires Cardinal McCarrick for his ability to “identify with a whole range of people within the Church, from the wealthiest to the humblest.”
In an interview before Cardinal Wuerl’s 50th anniversary as a priest last year, Bishop Knestout – who has been his top aide for the past decade – praised him as a dedicated, hard-working teacher of the faith with a pastoral approach to his ministry who “focuses on the heart of the mission of the Church.”
Bishop Knestout has said that the Church’s administrative work should be carried out in a pastoral way, reflecting Christ’s charity and truth. He has noted similarities in his architectural background and in the Church’s spiritual and pastoral work, which can involve teams of people working together to solve problems and build something that will meet needs and endure.
When he was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1989, Bishop Knestout was part of an ordination class of 10 – which was then the archdiocese’s largest ordination class in many years. Ten years later, they shared a “10 for 10” anniversary together, with all having remained priests and friends over the years. Two members of that ordination class have since died and one is retired, but five remain as pastors, and two others, including Bishop Knestout, work in Church administration.
After being ordained as an auxiliary bishop in 2008, he became the 50th graduate of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary to become a bishop, and his episcopal ordination happened in the year when the seminary sometimes called the “cradle of bishops” was celebrating the bicentennial of its 1808 founding.
“At the Mount, I was prepared to be a parish priest, with a good pastoral heart to care for the needs of people,” said Bishop Knestout, who added, “You teach by words, and by example.”
Then-Msgr. Knestout served as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, from 2004-06, after earlier serving as a parochial vicar at St. Bartholomew Parish in Bethesda and at St. Peter Parish in Waldorf.
He also served as executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry/Catholic Youth Organization from 2001-03 and as archdiocesan Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns from 2006-07.