Joseph Staniunas Special to The Catholic Virginian
As she stood in line in the ballroom of the Altria Theater with the oldest of her three daughters to meet Bishop Barry C. Knestout, Lauren Bedard reflected on the Friday, Jan. 12 installation Mass — the splendid music that filled the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, the procession of prelates that reinforced the idea of apostolic succession. But the Charlottesville nurse said what took her breath away was watching Bishop Knestout hold aloft his official letter of appointment from Pope Francis.
“He was really chosen by the pope, and the Holy Spirit had everything to do with this,” she said.
The ceremony reminded her of the evening Pope Francis greeted his new flock.
“I got the same impression from the bishop today, just that he was first so humble to serve, and that it was his greatest desire to help all of us in our walk with Christ,” she said. “He was just so well-spoken — no theatrics, everything came from the heart.”
Bedford and her daughter Cecilia were two of the more than 300 people from all parts of the diocese who got a chance to attend the bishop’s installation and reception on Friday, Jan. 12 by entering a lottery. The grey skies and light rain failed to dampen the joy many said they felt as he became the 13th bishop of Richmond.
Seminarian David Arellano has a similar impression of the new bishop. He was an altar server at the farewell mass for the former auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington earlier this month.
“From the first minute that I met him he put me right at ease,” he said. “He was very open to start talking to us. Very easy to talk to and get along with.”
“Already hearing his homilies last night and today at Mass, I’m really excited for this new bishop,” said another seminarian, Chris Masla. “I was talking about this last night with the guys — the way he preaches. He preaches the Gospel. And it comes straight from the heart.”
At one point in the ceremony, people representing various groups within the church, and other faiths, greeted the new bishop. Msgr. Thomas Miller, the former pastor of St. Andrew, Roanoke, did the honors for retired priests because he was “old…and mobile,” he said with a grin. “I was glad to do it; it was fun!”
He said Bishop Knestout will have a big learning curve; just meeting all the priests of the diocese could take a year or two.
“I think we’re very fortunate,” Msgr. Miller said. “I loved his homily, on feeding the sheep, that he recognizes that he can do some things for us, but he can’t do it all.”
As she waited her turn in the reception line, Margarita Guerrero of Madonna House in Roanoke, an apostolate for laywomen, also found the bishop “very approachable, and joyful.” She likes that Bishop Knestout has kept the same episcopal motto as the late Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, “Christ Our Hope.”
“If that’s not the Holy Spirit, I don’t know what is,” she said.
Continuing his predecessor’s strong support for Catholic education is what other people in the pews were hoping for, including Cate Harmeyer, campus minister at Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School, Virginia Beach.
“Keep the course that Bishop DiLorenzo set in supporting Catholic schools, enabling them to be available to students from all socio-economic backgrounds,” she said.
Another member of the group from Tidewater, Aaron Hostetter, music minister at Holy Trinity, Norfolk, appreciates Bishop Knestout’s experience, that he’s someone who’s “been around the block, has seen a lot of difficult decisions made.”
Since the bishop is only 55, “He’s going to be around a while,” Aaron said. “So we’re excited to see what he does to help shape our diocese.”
Everyone wants him to visit, something Bishop Knestout has already been trying to do, with a swing through Roanoke and Blacksburg these last two weeks.
“One thing I’m really inspired by is that a lot of his Masses in places he’s going to visit are on campus,” said Kristine Embree from Holy Spirit, Christiansburg.
She managed to get a ticket to the ceremony for herself and her son, Becket.
“I know they have bigger facilities so they can hold bigger Masses. But it’s a good sign that he’s recognizing that the youth of the Church are present and want to be active and part of the diocese,” she said.
Kay Early and Brenda May from St. Mary, Wytheville, found their seats in the cathedral a good 30 minutes before the Mass began.
“We’d love to see him come to southwest Virginia more,” said Kay. Brenda added, “We’re kinda lost out there, so it’s really good to have him come visit once in a while.”
The throng, of course, included lots of people from the Richmond area, such as Ana Starke of St. Ann Parish, Ashland. She had been in Bogota, Columbia over Christmas, caring for her mother, and wasn’t sure she’d be able to attend. But she made it.
“I wish him the best,” she said. “We have to continue to pray that he will do the best for our community. That’s the most important thing.”
Lauren and Cecilia Bedard were among the last ones to greet Bishop Knestout and pose with him for a smartphone photo. She had an hour’s drive home, still needed to do some baking for a friend’s baby shower and had to be at the hospital at 7 a.m. the next day. But like other people who came to celebrate this day, she wanted to take the bishop’s message home, too, and find ways to apply it — a “simple but palpable message,” in her words: to help this new shepherd feed his sheep.