Caroline Mae Knestout, mother of Richmond Bishop Barry C. Knestout and Father Mark D. Knestout, pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Bethesda, was remembered during a Mass of Christian Burial for her devout Catholic faith, as well as for her boundless love and dedication to her family and parish community. Knestout died on Oct. 21 at the age of 93.

“Mom was born in the mountains of northwestern Pennsylvania, into a family that came from the mountains of central and south Italy. Most of her life was lived away from those mountains, but her longevity and quiet strength was rooted in the rugged mountain stock of those places,” said Bishop Knestout during the homily of his mother’s Oct. 28 Funeral Mass at St. Pius X Church in Bowie.

“In the Scriptures, mountains are often the places where we encounter God. All of us, throughout our lives, are distanced from God because of sin. We are far from the top of the mountain,” said the bishop, who was ordained an archdiocesan priest in 1989 and previously served as an auxiliary bishop of Washington from 2008 to 2017.  

“But through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, prayer and fidelity to our vocation, we are invited to gradually climb that mountain of encounter. Our hope is that by the end of our efforts, we have reached the summit, even if the last steps of the climb are the hardest, steepest, most difficult,” he said.

“I believe mom crested that summit. She did so by passing through three way stations along the climb. By grace and faith, through her vocation as wife and mother, these way stations were home, kitchen and family. Or as the Italians might say: ‘Casa, Cucina, e Famiglia.’ In these places mom gave us the gift of a foretaste of heaven,” he said.

Bishop Knestout served as the principal celebrant of the Mass, and was joined in concelebrating the liturgy by Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge; retired Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde; Washington Auxiliary Bishops Mario Dorsonville and Michael Fisher; his brother, Father Mark Knestout; Father Michael Jones, pastor of St. Pius X Parish; and more than 60 priests of the Archdiocese of Washington and the Dioceses of Richmond and Arlington. 

Born July 5, 1927 in Austin, Pennsylvania, Knestout was the daughter of the late Mary and John (Carlo) Lucci. She graduated from Paulsboro High School in Paulsboro, New Jersey in 1945, and the West Jersey Hospital School of Nursing in 1948. In 1954, she married her husband, the late Deacon Thomas Knestout, the former executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Permanent Diaconate. The couple moved to Maryland when he began his work as a cryptologist for the National Security Agency in Fort Meade. For more than 40 years, she was a resident of Bowie, where Thomas and Caroline Knestout raised their family of six sons and three daughters. In the 1960s, she spent four years with her family in Ankara, Turkey, while her husband was on assignment there.

Caroline Knestout is seen on a ferry crossing the Bosporus, Turkey in 1967, when her family lived in that country during her husband's U.S. government work there. (Family photo)

For more than two decades, she worked as a registered nurse at Prince George’s General Hospital in Cheverly, serving in the cardiac care, labor and delivery, and neonatal intensive care units. Knestout also served as a school nurse for the Prince George’s County School System. After retiring from nursing, she worked for 15 years as a library aide in the Prince George’s County Public Library in Bowie. 

Bishop Knestout noted that in reminiscing over old photos of his mother following her passing, he realized that she was most often pictured in the context of her home, her kitchen or amongst family members. 

“Mom found joy, purpose and meaning in these three places, these three stations where she expressed the dignity of her vocation as wife and mother,” he said. “She found joy, purpose, and meaning in her decades-long career of nursing, too. But that avocation was just an overflowing of her love of home, kitchen and family. These three stations were the context, the center, and the focus of much of mom’s life.”

Knestout was a devoted parishioner of St. Pius X Parish, where her late husband served as a permanent deacon for many years, and she frequently helped him with his ministry serving the poor and hungry in the community through the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society. She was also a longtime member of the parish sodality and a Cub Scout den mother for her sons.

She especially enjoyed cooking for family and friends, turning out great pots of spaghetti, homemade sauces, meatballs, pizza, brownies and other savory and sweet dishes based on Italian recipes her mother taught her, which she, in turn, handed down to her children. She was also known for overflowing trays of Italian cookies and candies at Christmastime. Throughout the years, she also enjoyed traveling the United States and Europe with her husband, family and friends.

“Kitchens are places of self-sacrificial love, the place of labor, or perspiration, that is needed prior to the banquet being enjoyed. Heaven is often seen as a banquet feast, an abundance of ‘choice wines and rich food’ provided on a heavenly table. This is what the Mass is, that we celebrate today for Mom, and each day in Church. It is the foretaste of the heavenly banquet, where we are sustained and nourished by the love of God and one another,” said the bishop.  “Mom loved her kitchen and she was devoted to attending Mass, now we have a confident hope, that she is seated at table and enjoying the banquet at the summit of encounter with God. “

In her later years, Knestout moved to Odenton, Maryland, and then to St. Martin’s Home in Catonsville, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Caroline Knestout, in a 2019 photo taken after she moved to the St. Martin Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Catonsville, Maryland. (Family photo)

During an Oct. 26 memorial Mass for Knestout at St. Martin’s Home, chaplain Father Stan DeBoe said she was a beloved member of the community, whose presence brought happiness to staff and fellow residents alike. 

“She brightened the room, brought smiles to our faces, and joy to every event. Whether it was at Mass or any of the spiritual events, bingo, arts and crafts, or just on a walk, your mother spread joy. She made visible the joy that Jeanne Jugan wants her homes to be filled with,” he said. 

“‘This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!’ That was Caroline’s theme. And she said it with great gusto, believing every word, and she said it often. And over the past months of Covid isolation, social and political unrest, and our own personal struggles, we have never needed to hear those words more. Caroline was a ray of joy and hope, and when we might not have been able to see God in this, Caroline reminded us that today, this day, no matter what it holds, was created by the Lord. It is gift and it is promise. And what we do with each day can reveal God in the midst of our lives and our world,” the priest said.

On behalf of his family, Bishop Knestout expressed his and his siblings’ gratitude for their mother’s quiet, steady example of faith, and her generous, nurturing love for their family.

“Thanks, Mom, for making so many sacrifices for us and, especially, for these final year’s sacrifices,” he said. “If you did not need them for your own holiness, your generosity of spirit and energy ensured that many others, all your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family and friends, each climbed a little higher toward the summit to heaven.”

Mrs. Knestout was preceded in death by her husband, Deacon Thomas Knestout, in 1997; her son Timothy in 2019; and a grandson, Andrew Fowler. She is survived by five sons, Bishop Barry Knestout, Father Mark Knestout, Robert, Thomas, and Brian; three daughters, Janice, Julia, and Rosemarie; 15 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren; her sister, Annette, as well as numerous nieces and nephews. Interment took place in Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton.