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BREAKING: Son of a deacon named bishop of Richmond

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This is big. 

It may well be the first time the son of a deacon has ever been named the ordinary of a diocese—at least, in modern times:

Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Barry Knestout to lead the diocese of Richmond, Virginia. Knestout, currently an auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese of Washington, will succeed Bishop Francis DiLorenzo who was bishop from 2004 until his death in August.

Knestout was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Washington by Cardinal James Hickey in 1989. He went on to serve as priest-secretary to Hickey from 1994 until his death in 2004. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as an auxiliary bishop to the archdiocese.

Knestout is one of nine children. His younger brother Mark also serves as a priest in the archdiocese, and his father, who died in 1997, was a deacon. At his installation mass in 2008, Knestout highlighted his family’s Catholic heritage and lauded his mother for her efforts.

“You and Dad have given your children the most precious gift you could give: Faith, and that continues to bear fruit,” he said.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, praised the pope’s decision to appoint Knestout to Richmond as “good news and reason for us to rejoice with the Diocese of Richmond.

“Bishop Knestout carries with him the affection, respect and admiration of all of us with whom he so generously gave his time and efforts,” said Wuerl in a statement on Tuesday.

He grew up in a large family in suburban Washington—part of a set of twins and, significantly, the son of a deacon:

For nine months Caroline Knestout, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout’s mother, thought she was having a baby — just one.

Although she occasionally complained to her doctor about feeling like the pregnancy was a little different from the five she had had before, nothing came of it. Her doctor listened for the heartbeat with a stethoscope because sonograms weren’t used yet. It was confirmed — one baby and one heartbeat.

But five minutes after she delivered her first child – Bishop Barry Knestout – at 6 lbs., 12 oz. she delivered a second baby – Thomas Knestout at 6 lbs., 10 oz.

“My dad almost passed out,” Thomas Knestout said people told him later. The doctor, for whom Bishop Barry Knestout is named, also had a moment of shock while the idea of “twins” registered, he said.

Thomas Knestout, whose name means twin, said his father – the late Deacon Thomas Knestout, who headed the archdiocesan office for the permanent diaconate for many years – is also a twin. The Knestouts raised nine children – three girls and six boys.

Growing up, both Bishop-elect Knestout and Thomas Knestout had a love for drawing, Thomas Knestout said. Bishop Knestout eventually harnessed his love for drawing and earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Maryland, his brother added.

Of the twins, Thomas Knestout, not Bishop Knestout, was the twin who got in trouble most often.

“If anybody did something, I was the first one to get blamed,” he said.

Nowadays, Thomas Knestout and Bishop Knestout travel on completely different career paths. Thomas is a realtor and businessman. Bishop Knestout is part of the Church’s hierarchy.

I blogged about Bishop Barry’s family nearly a decade ago, and the impact of his father’s vocation on him:

Bishop-elect Knestout was baptized at St. Ambrose Parish in Cheverly, and later grew up as a member of St. Pius X Parish in Bowie, with five brothers and three sisters. He is the son of the late Deacon Thomas Knestout, who headed the archdiocesan office for the permanent diaconate for many years, and Caroline Knestout, who worked as a nurse. In a 1989 interview, the future bishop said the example of his family played a key role in his vocation. Deacon Knestout would bring his children along with him as he ministered to a hospital that served people with disabilities.

“I was a seventh grader (then). He (dad) would cart us along, my brothers and me… We as a family felt very much a part of his vocation,” the future bishop said. He said he was also inspired by the “quiet service” of his mom.

In June 1989, Deacon Thomas Knestout and his son, Deacon Barry Knestout, served as deacons together at Mass for the first time at St. Pius X Church, bowing together reverently before the altar. Caroline Knestout said then that the biggest similarity between father and son was “their love for the Lord.”

Ad multos annos!

Photo: Archdiocese of Washington

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Deacon Greg Kandra
The Deacon's Bench
Deacon Greg Kandra is a Roman Catholic deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. For nearly three decades, he was a writer and producer for CBS News, where he contributed to a variety of programs and was honored with every major award in broadcasting. Deacon Greg now serves as Multimedia Editor for Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA.) He and his wife live in Forest Hills, New York.
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