Pope Benedict XVI named a Bowie priest as one of three auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Washington, the first time a native of Prince George’s County has been selected to such a post.
Monsignor Barry C. Knestout, 46, is the chief of staff for the archdiocese and was co-chairman of the planning committee for the pope’s visit to the capital last April.
On Tuesday, he told reporters that he received a surprise call Oct. 28 from Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio - or ambassador - to the United States.
“He said the Holy Father had named me auxiliary bishop of Washington and to entrust myself to the Lord,’” the monsignor said. “I said, ‘I am overwhelmed. Whatever the Holy Father wants, I’ll do.’”
He will be installed as a bishop on Dec. 29 in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington. His brother, the Rev. Mark Knestout, 44, directs worship for the archdiocese and will be in charge of planning the installation ceremony.
The two are part of a family of nine children whose father, Thomas Knestout, was a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church. Both said their father encouraged them to become priests.
“This is a great honor for our family,” Father Mark Knestout said, adding that he had brought some champagne to the archdiocesan center to celebrate.
The bishop-elect was born in Cheverly, reared in Bowie and attended St. Pius X Elementary School and Bowie High School. He received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Maryland in 1984, then entered Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
“He had a marvelous sense of humor and he was a great student,” said fellow classmate the Rev. Ron Potts, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in LaPlata, Md. “He has a great reputation among the priests.”
Ordained in 1989, Bishop-elect Knestout was a vicar at St. Bartholomew Church in Bethesda and St. Peter’s Church in Waldorf, Md., until 1994. He then became the priest-secretary to the Cardinal James Hickey in 1994, a post he held until the cardinal’s death in 2004.
Serving as an aide to a cardinal is time-honored way of ascending the church hierarchy, because most priest-secretaries get to travel frequently to Rome, where they are able to make valuable personal contacts.
Washington Archbishop Donald G. Wuerl was secretary to the Pittsburgh Cardinal John Wright in the 1970s, and former Washington Auxiliary Bishop William E. Lori - now bishop of Bridgeport, Conn. - was also secretary to Cardinal Hickey.
The archdiocese has two other active auxiliaries: Bishops Francisco Gonzalez and Martin Holley.
The bishop-elect said he will retain his duties at the chancery, “but there will be more confirmations, more chicken dinners, etc.”
By mid-morning Tuesday, his staff already had taped a computer-generated congratulation message to the door of his office, where he has been an administrator since 2006 after two years as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Silver Spring.
The grandson of Lithuanian immigrants, the bishop-elect enjoys jogging and movies enough to be able to comment on “The Godfather” and the virtues of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
His patron saint, St. Barnabas, has the same feast day as his birthday: June 11, 1962.
His resume impressed Archbishop Wuerl, who put his name along with two others as nominees for auxiliary bishop to replace Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Farrell, who left the archdiocese last year for Dallas.
All nominees are vetted by the nuncio, who then forwards the names to Rome.
The archbishop - a frequent visitor to Rome - dodged a question at a press conference about how influential his input may have been.
“In the whole process, many people are consulted,” Archbishop Wuerl said. “I am just thrilled at the result.”