Mary Howell, Special to The Catholic Virginian
What better way to gain insight into the experience and skills that Bishop Barry C. Knestout brings to his role as leader of the Richmond Diocese than to ask Father Mark Knestout, pastor of St. Bartholomew Church in Bethesda, Maryland?
“Barry was the peacemaker among us,” said Father Knestout said of his brother.
Shortly after Father Mark was born, their father’s career took the family overseas to Ankara, Turkey, where they spent nearly five years.
“Our father worked as a cryptologist at the National Security Agency, while our mother was a nurse and homemaker,” he explained.
His father was transferred back to the states in August 1969, with the Knestout family returning to their Bowie, Maryland home and resuming active membership in their local parish, St. Pius X. The nine siblings each attended its parochial school while preparing for their various sacraments.
“I remember that the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chestnut Hill, who operated the school, used corn flakes to teach us how to receive the Eucharist,” said Father Mark, who made his first communion in 1972.
During this time, their father served as a lector and assisted with the local Boy Scout troop. He was ordained a permanent deacon in 1975, when Father Mark was 10. Later, he went on to direct the permanent diaconate program for the Archdiocese of Washington for 10 years.
Bishop Knestout attended the local public high school and then worked his way through the University of Maryland, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture in December 1984. Meanwhile, Father Mark went on a scholarship to a college in Massachusetts, where he studied political science and economics.
“We’d both considered the priesthood since we were young,” noted Father Mark, adding that his brother worked briefly for an architecture firm before entering the seminary at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland in 1985.
After being ordained a priest in June 1989, the future bishop was assigned to be a parochial vicar at the same church where his brother now serves as pastor.
Meanwhile, Mark worked in Washington, D.C. for several years, serving on a U.S. Senate campaign committee, then as a lobbyist for a Pittsburgh-based law firm before acknowledging the same call to a priestly life that his brother had nine years earlier.
“I called my brother from work one day to discuss the thoughts that I was having about the priesthood,” Father Mark said. “He asked if I wanted to have lunch, so I left my desk and headed for my downtown DC Metro station. He picked me up at the local/Bethesda Metro stop and we drove to the St. Bart’s rectory to continue our discussion.”
Guided by his brother’s counsel, Father Mark entered the seminary in 1992.
“Cardinal (James A.) Hickey assigned me first to philosophy classes at The Catholic University of America’s Theological College and then to Rome for formation to the priesthood at the Pontifical North American College,” the priest said.
Despite the difference in their seminary experiences, the brothers saw each other regularly during this time.
“Barry had been appointed priest-secretary to Cardinal Hickey and regularly traveled with the cardinal to Rome. Each time he visited, he’d bring some goodies from home like an October birthday cake for me or some homemade brownies — carefully packed in his suitcase — that our mom had baked me,” Father Mark recalled.
The brothers’ religious vocations paralleled from 2006-2013. Now-Monsignor Knestout was selected by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl to be his secretary for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Secretariat for Parish Life and Social Concerns. Father Mark worked as director of the archdiocese’s Office of Worship and a part- time priest assistant to Cardinal Wuerl.
The brothers also worked together to plan for Pope Benedict’s spring 2008 visit. Father Mark was in charge of the liturgy, making arrangements for the Holy Father to celebrate Mass on April 17 at Nationals Park.
It was not the easiest task, according to the priest, as the baseball stadium was under construction during the whole planning stage of the papal visit — being completed just three weeks prior to the Mass with Pope Benedict.
“We each brought different but complementary skills to our respective duties,” he said. “I don’t have the methodical, analytical abilities of my brother, but I do have an organizational mind that helps me factor in the hundreds of little details needed to plan a major event.”
They worked together again to plan Pope Francis’ visit to Washington in September 2015.
“September 23 was a very busy long day,” Father Mark recalled, noting that the pope’s itinerary included, among other commitments, a meeting with President Obama and an address to the U.S. bishops.
“The next day was just as long as Pope Francis spoke to the United States Congress and then met with some members of the homeless community of Washington who are cared for by Catholic Charities at St. Patrick’s Church in downtown DC,” the priest said.
Father Mark and his brother continue to spend their days off, holidays, and vacations with their 90-year-old mother who lives in the suburbs of Washington.
Father Mark appreciates the preparations that were made for the Mass at which his brother was installed as the Richmond Diocese’s 13th bishop.
“All of our siblings and our mother plan to attend,” he said. “And my brother said he looks forward to spending less time behind a desk and more time on pastoral outreach, meeting the faithful from across his new diocese in the next few months.”