Joseph Stanuinas, Special to The Catholic Virginian
At night, in a four-bedroom, colonial house in Bowie, Maryland, a teenager leans over a drafting table, a lamp lighting his face as three of his brothers sleep. Sometimes he draws well past midnight.
“More than one morning he was still working, trying to get his projects done,” said Brian Knestout of his older brother, Barry.
“I always knew he liked art and was good at art,” the youngest of the six Knestout boys said. “But I didn’t realize how talented an artist he was until I saw the portfolio of drawings he put together when he applied to architecture school at Maryland. And I remember being blown away by it. His drawing ability was really exceptional.”
“Barry is conscientious, disciplined, and has empathy toward others,” said Bob, the eldest of his brothers. “He is naturally quiet but has kind of made himself into a more outgoing person through reading and putting himself out there in the world.”
“I don’t recall Barry ever getting in trouble, don’t remember my Dad ever yelling at him,” said his twin, Tom — the third of four Knestout brothers who aren’t priests who shared some of their thoughts about the new bishop of Richmond. Another brother, Tim, was not available for an interview.
The boys were part of a devout Catholic family living in a tract built by the famed William Levitt. They were altar boys who attended Mass every Sunday, went to St. Pius X Parish school, and did some trick-or-treating at a convent on Halloween. Local priests would come by for homemade pizza, sharing dinner at a kitchen table that had benches instead of chairs so everyone could fit.
They did the things kids did in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“I remember playing touch football in the snow with our buddies,” Tom said. “We threw snowballs, played out in the street, rode our bikes.”
“With all these siblings, there was always something to do,” Bob said. “In those days, we would play outside for eight hours, all day, and come inside only to get a drink of water.”
Some experiences weren’t typical. For five years in the late ‘60s the family lived in Turkey, where their dad, an employee of the National Security Agency, was doing cryptography consulting. They rode camels, swam in the Mediterranean, traveled in a Volkswagen bus.
Tom recalled that they’d climb on their apartment building “not even thinking about the dangers of falling. We’d hang over the ledge and spit off the top, just doing typical kid stuff.”
His brothers said that Barry was a good student who made the honor roll a few times. Their parents expected them to work hard and do their best. Bob has an accounting background and does finance work for Booz Allen. Tom works for Southwest Airlines and is a Realtor. Brian is a lawyer with the Federal Reserve in Washington. Tim is a truck driver.
With Catholic faith such a big part of family life, some of the boys thought about the priesthood. Barry approached a priest early on, Tom recalled, and told him he was thinking about going to the seminary. The priest advised him to go to college, live your life a little bit and if you feel the same then let’s talk.
“Soon after, he felt that he still had the calling and felt that was the direction he needed to go in and pursued it,” Tom said. “For me it wasn’t so much a surprise. It was like it was almost expected.”
It was a bit of a surprise to Brian. He remembers his mother calling the family together, saying she had wonderful news — Barry was going to enter the seminary.
“And I thought, ‘Really?’” Brian said. “He kept it kind of quiet as far as I could tell. I’m sure he talked to my dad about it but it really fit. He’s always been a caring, good brother.”
Brian said the bishop is the kind of guy one can go to with a problem or an issue.
“You could talk to him about it and he’d sit there and think it through,” he said. “He may not have had an answer but he’d listen and be able to talk to you about it.”
In his high school yearbook, Barry Knestout said that he wanted to dedicate his life to Jesus.
“I remember when he did become a priest and I asked him what his goals were, and he said he just wanted to be a parish priest; that was his only goal,” Brian said. “He really liked it, really wanted to do it. And that very humble vocation has now led to where he’s the bishop for a very large diocese.”
A diocese, his brothers hope, that will come to know and love him as much as they do.