Monday, January 12, 2009

Meet the Bishop

As you can see, Bishop-elect Richard Stika has already made himself at home in Volunteer Country, donning a University of Tennessee hat during this morning's presser.

Well-known for his "just folks" ways, the moment was no put-on.

Stika's predecessor in the post, now Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, was in attendance, as were the the state's other two ordinaries, Bishops Terry Steib SVD of Memphis and David Choby of Nashville.

As the folks in the 60,000-member church begin trying to figure out who the new arrival is and what he's like, no reporter knows him better or has covered him longer than his hometown's rightly revered faith-scribe, Patricia Rice, who ran the church-beat first at the St Louis Post-Dispatch and now keeps on at the web-only Beacon.

Having just checked in with Stika last week, here's Rice's first-run on today's move:
Friends characterize Stika as a happy and humble priest who gives good sermons that relate to lay people’s everyday life. He is popular retreat master. He has a fine memory for names and faces.

He is never more joyful than when he talks about the papal visit, Jan. 26-27, 1999. Pope John Paul II was his guest, literally. Stika moved out of his own bedroom in the archbishop’s residence at Lindell Boulevard at Taylor Avenue so it could become the special guest’s bedroom. When Stika tells the story, he always adds that he left a few of his own family’s photos in the room so it would not seem like a hotel or an impersonal guest room.

“It just doesn’t seem like it has been 10 years since the papal visit,” he said in a conversation with this reporter last week. He said that he was the only priest left in the archdiocese’s main administration office who was there during the papal visit.

Stika did not discuss the Knoxville appointment, though he would have known and would have been forbidden to speak of it under church law.

His ebullient manner cools only when he talks about his challenging duty as director of the St. Louis Archdiocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection. Since 2004, he has been in charge of supervising staff who work with victims of sex abuse or harassment by priests and other archdiocesan employees. He also oversees the archdiocese’s efforts to train employees and volunteers to properly implement the Vatican’s canon law policies and US Conference of Catholic Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth. He has held other key posts....

Shortly after Archbishop Justin F. Rigali arrived from Rome to become the St. Louis archbishop in 1994, he chose Stika as his secretary and master of ceremonies. At the time, Stika had been associate director of the archdiocese’s vocation office – priest recruitment – and spiritual director of the Catholic Youth Council (CYC).

Rigali, a California native who had lived in Rome for three decades, leaned on Stika to patiently help him understand cultural differences of the Midwest in the 1990s compared to the California he knew as a seminarian in the 1960s.

After three years as Rigali’s secretary, Stika rose to become chancellor of the archdiocese and later a vicar general. In 2004, after Pope John Paul II sent Rigali to Philadelphia to be its archbishop and named Rigali a cardinal, the next St. Louis archbishop, Raymond Burke, kept Stika on as director of programs dealing with victims of sex abuse. He also made him vicar for priests.

Stika remained a good friend of his mentor. Rigali usually visits St. Louis for New Year’s Day. During the 2009 New Year’s visit Stika hosted a reception in Rigali’s honor.

Stika is a south St. Louis native who was born on the 4th of July. He grew up in Epiphany of the Lord Parish in South St. Louis and graduated from its grade school.

He first got to know priests when he worked answering the phones at St. Raymond Parish rectory. That parish is part of the Maronite rite, Eastern Church in LaSalle Park. After grade school, Stika spent his first year of high school at a now-closed, Catholic seminary run by the Augustinian priests in Holland, Mich. Then, he returned to his widowed mother’s south St. Louis home and transferred to DuBourg High School. He continued his studies at St. Louis University where he got a B.S. in business in 1979....

Since Stika’s ordination he has been allowed to say Mass not only in English, but also in Aramaic, the ancient language of the Lebanese. His old friends at St. Raymond’s helped him get him bi-ritual faculties of the Maronite Church.

For years one of Stika’s favorite past times has been walking in the foothills of the Ozarks near Hillsboro. Soon, he can walk in Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which are within his Tennessee diocese.
Another line sent from under the Arch summed it up thus: "The people love him."

Coming with the bishop-elect to East Tennessee is his dog, Rosie -- who, he joked earlier today, "got more Christmas presents than [he] did."

Stika will celebrate his first Mass in his new charge tomorrow at an elementary school.

SVILUPPO: Via Roundhouse, Bishop-elect's presser statement:
It was during the evening of December 16 that I received a phone call from the Apostolic Nuncio informing me that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, had appointed me as the third bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville. It was a very gracious call that began a flood of emotion that now takes me to this special moment with you today!

I've had almost three weeks to prepare for this day...weeks that were filled with great faith-filled moments, as well as many very human moments of joy that I was coming to Knoxville and sadness that I will be leaving a community that I have known for 51 years. However, I was comforted by the fact that I also was traveling with the Church through the season of Advent, a season of joyful expectation, as well as Christmas, which is a reminder of God's love for His people. But three weeks is enough. I'm glad it's now today!

First, I wish to say I am most humbled by this appointment by the Holy Father. From the first moments of my ministry as a priest in St. Louis, I have always been grateful for the tremendous experiences I have witnessed of the goodness of God's people.

To move from my home in St. Louis to Knoxville will be a real change for me. I am usually pretty adaptable to my surroundings. I know that I must contemplate a change of allegiance from the St. Louis Rams to the Tennessee Titans. This is a little easier, as the Rams only won two games this season, but they should be better. I must also pledge a certain loyalty to many state and local teams of Tennessee, especially the Tennessee Volunteers! And I was glad to learn that Knoxville Catholic High School's soccer, tennis, and football teams recently won state championships!

However, I hope you will forgive me if I am not able to pledge loyalty to any baseball team except the St. Louis Cardinals. My Cardinals cap will travel with me as I now prepare to make my home in Knoxville. In fact, I am most blessed to have as one of my parishioners in St. Louis Stan Musial, a Hall of Famer since 1969 who also is a good friend and a true model of a baseball player.

In these last weeks I have spent many, moments in prayer and reflection on this new step in my life. These thoughts included a sense of gratitude to my parents, Frank and Helen Stika, both whom have been called home to God. They—together with so many—are part of this day today as they were part of my formation.

I also remember all the many people who have been so supportive to me throughout my life. In particular I express gratitude to the parishioners of Epiphany of Our Lord, Mary Queen of Peace, the Cathedral Basilica, and also those at the parish where I am now pastor, Church of the Anunziata.

Today I also express special gratitude to Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, my predecessor in the Diocese of Knoxville who now serves as Archbishop of Louisville. In addition, I am pleased that Bishop David Choby of Nashville and Bishop Terry Steib of Memphis are both present with us today, a clear demonstration of the world famous sense of southern hospitality. You may all like to know a bit of shared history I have with Bishop Steib—I had the privilege when I was in seminary of serving at the episcopal ordination of Bishop Steib when he was ordained for service as a bishop in St. Louis. He still looks the same today as he did then!

And, of course, I must also extend deep thanks to Father Al Humbrecht, the administrator of the Diocese of Knoxville these many months, as well as to all those who have assisted him in the leadership of the diocese.

In a special way this morning I greet you, my brother priests of the diocese, as well as the deacons and consecrated religious who serve the people of Knoxville. I am grateful for all the individual contributions of faith, sacrifice, and service that each one of you makes, and I look forward to working with all of you in the years ahead.

I would also like to greet the people of various faith communities in East Tennessee, whose collaboration I also look forward to.

Most of all, I greet the people of this great Church of Knoxville. I look forward to the years ahead as we strive to be the face of Jesus to all those we meet. I am most honored to be your bishop. You have waited for this moment for some time, and I pledge to you that, with the help of God, I will not disappoint you.

Finally, in these past few weeks as I have reflected and prayed, one item that has been on my mind especially is a practical one for a new bishop: the episcopal motto and coat of arms. I see my episcopal motto, in some ways, as a statement of who I am as a Christian and how I live my faith. At first I considered "And He made His dwelling among us," which is from Saint John's Gospel. This passage illustrated how I see the Church, with Christ present in our midst.

Eventually, though, my thought process evolved toward the motto, "Jesus, I trust in You." This phrase, taken from the Divine Mercy devotion, reflects my need to trust in Jesus at all moments of my life, especially as I move into the future.

To the people of God of the Diocese of Knoxville, I thank you for your generous commitment in living and preaching the Gospel of Jesus. You ARE the Church—our Lord has given much to you, and the Lord expects much from you and from me.

And so I greet you all and thank you all and pledge myself to you. Please pray for me, that I may be a good servant of the Gospel, a good shepherd of this local Church, and a brother in Christ to all of you.
PHOTO: Chad Greene/Knoxville News-Sentinel