When he was introduced as Richmond’s new bishop at a Dec. 5 press conference, Bishop Barry Knestout’s first remarks reflected the two biggest constants in his life: devotion to his Catholic faith and his family.
He opened with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, and after expressing his gratitude to Pope Francis for his new appointment and the honor he felt in serving the Church in Richmond, he paid tribute first to his family for their impact on his life “as a man, a priest, pastor and bishop.”
First he acknowledged “with great affection and special gratitude, my parents, who have given me life and formed me in the faith. My mother Caroline, still strong at 90 years, has shown me throughout my life the profound importance of prayerful reflection and familial love. My father Thomas, at rest in the Lord, taught me the importance of service to the Church, with charismatic energy and generous diaconal service.”
Then he thanked his eight siblings, “all my brothers and sisters, Janice, Rose, Julie, Bob, Tim, Tom, Mark (Father Mark, here present) and Brian who as you might suspect do a great job of keeping me humble!”
Bishop Knestout, 55, grew up in Bowie, Maryland, receiving the sacraments of First Communion, First Penance and Confirmation at St. Pius X Parish, which was established in 1962, the year he was born.
His father, Deacon Thomas Knestout, worked as a cryptologist for the National Security Agency and served for many years as the director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate for the Archdiocese of Washington. Known for his resonant voice and happy demeanor, he was active in the Charismatic Renewal prayer movement. He died in 1997.
In an interview with the Catholic Standard, Bishop Knestout, while noting that his spirituality is not charismatic, added, “At the same time, I do have a devotion to the Holy Spirit, which I believe I received from him.”
Bishop Knestout, who had opened his first press conference in Richmond with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, added, “I do rely on the Holy Spirit a lot.”
Richmond’s new bishop noted, “I’m a lot like my mom in terms of temperament... She’s not one about talking about the faith. She’s one about living the faith.”
In addition to raising her large family, Caroline Knestout also worked over the years as a nurse and in prenatal care at Prince George’s Hospital in Cheverly, and as a school nurse at Fox Hill Elementary School in Bowie.
Bishop Knestout has described his mom as “the heart of our family,” who emphasized the importance of attending Mass, praying together and sharing family meals. She also played a key role in family celebrations over the years as her children received the sacraments and reached milestones in their lives.
“My mom has always been a very steady, pragmatic person,” he said, noting she offered an example of “steady fidelity to family and friends.” Her “care and love for us” was always present, the bishop said.
Sometimes as a teen, Bishop Knestout missed the Washington Redskins’ games on Sundays, because his dad, Deacon Knestout, would “drag us along,” bringing Barry and another brother with him as the deacon ministered at a state hospital serving people with mental and physical disabilities.
“As a teen and kid, I didn’t always appreciate the importance of that witness,” said Bishop Knestout, who added that he does now. “As I look back on that, I realize the tremendous gift that was shared in that work,” he said, reflecting on the example of his father.
He remembers how his dad was a man devoted to his family and to his faith and demonstrated “the willingness to sacrifice for a greater good, for the good of others.”
Bishop Knestout said his father once told him, “The mark of a man is not how well he does things he enjoys, but how well he does the things that are difficult, the challenges of life.”
Both Bishop Knestout – who was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1989 and as an auxiliary bishop for Washington in 2008 – and his younger brother, Father Mark Knestout, who was ordained as a priest for the archdiocese in 1998 and now serves as pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Bethesda, have said their parents’ example of faith and love helped foster their vocations.
In a 1989 interview just before Barry Knestout was ordained to the priesthood, Deacon Knestout said he and his wife were proud of all nine of their children.
“They practice their faith – all of them. That gives us a great sense of accomplishment,” he said. “We haven’t given them wealth. We haven’t built up a family empire. What we have given them is their faith… There’s nothing of greater value we could have given them.”
Deacon Knestout preached at Father Barry Knestout’s first Mass, and the future Bishop Knestout in turn preached at the first Mass of his brother, Father Mark Knestout, at their home parish, St. Pius X.
Being active in the life of their parish and school, St. Pius X, “was part and parcel of what our life was like… It was what we did,” said Bishop Knestout, who added that his parents’ example of faith was “part of the fabric of life.”
“Our participation at Mass was like the air we breathed,” said Bishop Knestout, describing his family’s faith. He said that as a priest and bishop, he has tried to center his life around prayer and the Mass.
At St. Pius X School, the future bishop learned to write cursive, and the Sisters of St. Joseph, along with the parish priests and lay teachers there, helped prepare him for the sacraments. A First Communion photo snapped in the family’s yard shows Barry Knestout and his twin brother Thomas smiling sheepishly as they wore a garment resembling the dalmatic worn by a bishop or priest.
“Bowie was a great place to grow up,” he said. “We always had great priests, down to earth” men. Bishop Knestout said the Bowie families had a “good balance” in meeting the responsibilities at their homes, churches, schools and jobs.
Bishop Knestout said growing up in a big family gave him practical experience of handling the “push and pull” of working with different personalities that has helped him in his work as a priest and bishop. “You have to deal with that early in a big family,” he said.
In his ministry as a priest and bishop, he said he has found encouragement and support from his large family, many of whom still live in the area. Bishop Knestout has been able to preside at the weddings of nieces and nephews and the baptisms of their children.
Now as he prepares to serve his new family of faith in the Diocese of Richmond, Bishop Knestout said he is glad that his own family will be, as it always has been, nearby. Many of them will be in attendance at his installation Mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, sharing another blessing together, as a family.
In an earlier interview, Bishop Knestout noted, “I always saw our lives as very ordinary lives that have been touched in a special way by God’s grace.”
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