By Marty Denzer and Jack Smith
KANSAS CITY — Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. was installed as Ordinary of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph during Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Nov. 4, 2015, the feast of St. Charles Borromeo. The day before, he served breakfast to patrons of the Cathedral’s Morning Glory Café and the evening of November 3 he celebrated vespers at the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
At his installation homily, Bishop Johnston recalled Pope Francis speaking to the U.S. bishops during his September 2015 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.
Those taking part in the events around his installation got to see those qualities in their new bishop. He was just about the last to leave a reception following vespers in St. Joseph. Two reporters ultimately gave up on a chance to interview him there, because he would not cut off the stream of St. Joseph parishioners who wanted to greet him. He greeted all.
It was the same at the reception at the Muehlebach Hotel that followed his installation. He stayed so long, he missed the last shuttle back to the Catholic Center. So that night he walked back at around 7 p.m. Three youths smoking in front of the main library stopped him. One asked him to pray for him. Bishop Johnston greeted him and said that he would pray for him.
“I’m an alcoholic and I just got kicked out of rehab,” the youth said.
Bishop Johnston assured him of his prayers, said some consoling words and began to move on. But the young man called out to him again, “I’ll put out my cigarette . . . I want to hear your words.” So the bishop put his arm on the young man’s shoulder and prayed the most beautiful prayer for him. The young man teared up and thanked him.
A man more hardened to city life would have just crossed the street. But we have a “tender” pastor.
Following a year of many pastoral encounters at parishes, schools and ministries across the diocese, he celebrated his first anniversary as our Bishop with a Mass and reception Nov. 4 at the Catholic Center.
Bishop Johnston was the principal celebrant of the Mass in the Chapel of Ephesus, concelebrated by Fathers Charles Rowe, Vicar General; Ken Riley, Chancellor, and Richard Rocha, president of St. Michael the Archangel High School. Many of the Chancery staff, and several visitors were in attendance.
As the Mass began, Bishop Johnston spoke to those in the chapel. “It is good to begin this day with all of you, as we did a year ago.”
In his homily he told of visiting schools and talking with the children. “As you know, children are full of questions,” he said. “The one I get asked most often is ‘What does a bishop do?’ Questions from children are God’s instrument to keep me on my toes!”
Turning serious, he broached the subject of heaven. “We are citizens of heaven,” he said. “Our baptismal certificates are our citizenship papers. Yes, we are citizens of heaven but we’re not there yet … we have to get home.
“I grew up hiking in the Smoky Mountains and we often saw the trail rangers watching over us. Sometime we saw one on horseback, which was really cool!” Whether on horseback or not, “the image of the ranger was a comforting image — knowing we were taken care of and looked after. A bishop is a trail ranger of sorts, a shepherd, looking after and taking care of us, letting us know we are loved.”
He looked around the chapel, taking in all who were there. “A bishop can’t do his job without really good people working for and with him … I offer this Mass for all of you. You are my intention.”
Then he turned to the Gospel reading for the day, the Parable of the Bad Steward, Luke 16:1-8. After a brief recap of the reading, Bishop Johnston said, “The Gospel is, in a sense, a little jab at us. It reminds us that often there are really energetic, creative, crafty and passionate people, all about their own interests. They are often more passionate that the Children of Light are. It is a reminder to be more passionate, more involved in our faith, in what we do, and who we are.”
After a momentary pause to let that sink in, he continued. “Pope Saint John XXIII said, ‘See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.’ The work of love is ongoing; you have to be patient. I see everything I can, overlook some things and try to change something every day. With God’s help someday, everything will be perfect.”
“We’re in this together,” he assured the assembled staffers. “I am blessed to have you all at my side.”
Father Rocha sang the opening bars to Salve Regina, Hail Holy Queen, and all joined in. As the final notes, “Ave, Ave, Ave Maria,” faded, the voice of a small girl rose, carrying on the last note, reminiscent of the word “Ave.” Smiles bloomed all around the chapel at the sound.
A reception followed in the Baum Room of the Catholic Center.