By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
ST. JOSEPH — You’re coming to a great diocese, Apostolic Administrator Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann told incoming Bishop James V. Johnston.
“There are not many dioceses in which public and private schools are closed, a parade is held, and the whole community is caught up in a Royal celebration on the occasion of the arrival of a new bishop,” Archbishop Naumann told Bishop Johnston at a Vespers on the eve of Bishop Johnson’s installation as the seventh bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“Congratulations for being the bishop of a world championship diocese,” he said.
Bishop Johnston noted the warm welcome, and the carpet rolled out for him, albeit blue instead of red.
“I have to thank the Kansas City Royals for winning the title in five games,” Bishop Johnston said, then poking a needle at his friend, the archbishop who is a lifelong and avid baseball fan.
When he was appointed bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Bishop Johnston said he looked at the liturgical calendar for a date for his installation and chose Nov. 4, the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo.
“Archbishop Naumann said, ‘No. That’s the date of the seventh game of the World Series,’” Bishop Johnston said.
They compromised. Bishop Johnston’s installation was scheduled for 2 p.m., plenty of time for Archbishop Naumann — and the rest of the diocese — to see the game, which wasn’t necessary.
But then, in his homily at the Nov. 3 Vespers, Bishop Johnston turned to the sacred place he was in.
The Diocese of St. Joseph was never “suppressed.” It was instead merged in 1956 with the Diocese of Kansas City.
And the Cathedral of St. Joseph was never “decommissioned.” It is still very much a cathedral in every sense.
Bishop Johnston, coming to this diocese after nearly eight years as bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, told the congregation that nearly filled the cathedral for the 5 p.m. Vespers of the very first bishop to serve western Missouri, Bishop John Joseph Hogan who was not only the founding bishop of St. Joseph in 1868, but of the Diocese of Kansas City in 1880.
“Some friends of mine in Springfield who have done research on Bishop Hogan recently gave me a copy of one of his letters,” he said.
News travelled slowly in those days. Bishop Hogan did not learn until February 1868 that the Vatican had established the Diocese of St. Joseph and named him the founding bishop some eight months before.
Here, in Bishop Hogan’s words, was the task facing him:
“A bishop’s see in St. Joseph, which only had one parish church, with boundaries limited to a few counties, in the least Catholic part of Missouri. In all, four or five poor missions, with a total Catholic population of about three or four thousand souls. No cathedral, no bishop’s house, no decent house for the clergy, no seminary, no students, no means, no hope of an increasing population, for the public lands had long before been sold. . . It was not until the September following that I could bring myself to consent to be a victim.”
“In other words, things were tough,” Bishop Johnston said.
But then, perhaps, Bishop Hogan knew the Scripture verse that was printed at the nursing station at the Mercy Villa nursing home in Springfield, and words that Bishop Johnston found inspiring: “Rejoice in hope,” St. Paul wrote to the Romans. “Be patient under trial, persevere in prayer.”
“Often, several of the residents would park their wheelchairs in the area in front of that verse, and as I walked down the hall behind them, I would look up and see that verse, visible in their midst, with their weaknesses and burdens,” Bishop Johnston said.
“The words took on a whole new meaning for me, seen in the context of that community,” he said.
“That is the power of God’s word. It continually gets introduced in new circumstances and lives as the church journeys through history. It has the ability to provide light and hope wherever we might find ourselves at one particular time or other in life,” Bishop Johnston said.
“Rejoice always,” St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, Bishop Johnston said.
“The truth is, if the Lord creates a calling for us, we can find joy in it,” he said.
“True joy, which is supernatural, depends only on one thing: Did the Lord create it? Is it his will?” Bishop Johnston said.
“We can’t always feel good, but we can always strive to obey God and in doing so, always rejoice,” he said.
He recalled Pope Francis speaking to the U.S. bishops during his September pastoral visit about the importance of tenderness to any pastor.
“Tenderness is a combination of kindness, understanding, patience and compassion all rolled into one,” Bishop Johnston said.
“Tenderness describes the Sacred Heart of Jesus — his love for the Father and his love for sinners,” he said.
“Tenderness describes the fatherly heart of St. Joseph and his love for the Holy Family, Mary and Jesus,” he said.
“‘Tenderness,’ Pope Francis said, ‘enables us to sow the seeds in the crooked furrows in which we are called to plant,’” Bishop Johnston told the congregation.
“We all know that life is full of crooked furrows — the crooked furrows of Galilee that Jesus sowed in, the crooked furrows that Bishop Hogan found here in 1868. The crooked furrows of Kansas City-St. Joseph today,” he said.
“The Lord calls us to plant seeds of faith, hope and love — here, now, tenderly, patiently, with joy and always with prayer,” he said.
But Bishop Johnston, speaking in the Cathedral of St. Joseph, knows both he and the diocese have heavenly help.
“St. Joseph, whose voice is not heard but whose presence and response to God’s will is astounding and critical to the unfolding of salvation history and the coming of Jesus, our Savior,” he said.
“He is a man who models for us joy in hope, patience in trial, perseverance in prayer,” Bishop Johnston said.
“As we travel together through this life on our pilgrim way to the Father’s house, as I begin my ministry as your bishop, I commend my own ministry and all of us as a diocese to the love, prayers and protection of St. Joseph,” he said.
“May we, like him and all the saints, ‘rejoice in hope, be patient under trial, and persevere in prayer,’” Bishop Johnston said.