By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Bishop James Vann Johnston, Jr., was formally installed as Bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Kansas City on Nov. 4. The evening before, he had celebrated Vespers at the St. Joseph Cathedral in St. Joseph. A warm, friendly man, our early impressions have been equally warm and friendly.
I had the privilege of speaking with him several days ago over the phone and can’t wait to share what we talked about.
He was born in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee, and grew up in Knoxville, attending Catholic grade and high schools before matriculating at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and earning a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering in 1982.
He is proud of his direct descent on his father’s side from Revolutionary War General William B. Lenoir, who was repaid for his service with a 5,000 acre tract of land in East Tennessee. He gave the tract, which includes Lenoir City, to his son William, in 1809. Lenoir City lies on the outskirts of Knoxville.
While in high school and college, he learned to love the outdoors, hiking and camping in Smoky Mountain National Park with friends. His two best friends, brothers, are also hiking enthusiasts and the three try to go hiking somewhere during the summer months when it’s warm.
He looks forward to checking out some of the forests and trails in this diocese, even those in the city including the Riverfront Heritage Trail in Parkville and Riverside; the forests in northern Missouri, near Weston, Camden and Gower, the Katy Trail a little ways south, and the Harry Wiggins Trolley Trail in Kansas City.
He has served on the Board of Regents at Conception Seminary College for 5 or 6 years, and has driven past Kansas City en route to meetings at Conception; through the city to Visitation Parish for a workshop on explaining the new translation of the Roman Missal and when the National Catholic Youth Conference was held at the Sprint Center, a fantastic experience, he recalled.
“I’ve always thought Kansas City was a pretty city. The priests, sisters and lay people I’ve met have been friendly and welcoming.” He looks forward to meeting and getting to know the people of St. Joseph and the other cities and towns in northwest Missouri.
Covering 15,429 square miles, the 27-county Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is about the size of the Diocese of Knoxville and about half the size of Springfield –Cape Girardeau. From Kansas City it is possible to reach just about anywhere in this diocese in 3 – 4 hours, making it closer knit than the southern Missouri diocese. Bishop Johnston said that makes it easier for people from different towns and cities to gather as a Church community, as for the annual Chrism Mass, and other diocesan liturgies and celebrations that might occur.
Besides hiking, Bishop Johnston likes country music and good barbecue, both of which he’ll get in this part of the country. He likes Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson, east Tennesseans Dolly Parton and Chet Atkins, and enjoys Alison Krauss and her band, Union Station.
When he was in Kansas City in September for the announcement of his appointment as Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Deacon Ralph Wehner, Director of the Office of Worship and Master of Ceremonies for the Bishop, treated him to barbecue from Jack Stack, which he said was really good. He said he had been instructed to check out Oklahoma Joe’s, now Joe’s Kansas City, and several other barbecue restaurants in the area.
He is already a Kansas City Royals Fan, and thinks Kaufmann Stadium very impressive, at least what he has seen driving past on his way to Conception.
When he was ordained a bishop and installed in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in 2008, Bishop Johnston said he “hoped to bring a ministry after the heart of Jesus Christ — the heart of compassion and the heart of a teacher” — to that diocese. For us here in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, he said he has been praying about that and hopes to be a man of communion, along the lines of the Gospel. He wants to pray for and with the people of our diocese, to be in communion with us. He hopes to foster and build communion among the different members of the Body of the Church here.
Welcome Bishop Johnston.