Tuesday, November 21, 2017

For US Bench, The Pope's "Doorbuster" – Nashville, Jeff City Land Long-Tipped Bishops

(Updated with presser video/statements.)

If anyone ever said the Vatican doesn't do Christmas ahead of December 25th, this Tuesday morning would prove them wrong.

In a significant double-shot of appointments following last week's November Meeting, at Roman Noon the Pope named Fr Joseph Mark Spalding, 52 (above) – until now vicar-general of Louisville and pastor of two city parishes – as 12th bishop of Nashville...

...and Fr William Shawn McKnight, 49 (right) – pastor of Wichita's flourishing Church of the Magdalen, already a familiar figure on the national stage from his five years as director of the USCCB's Clergy arm – to Missouri's capital as the fourth bishop of Jefferson City. With his appointment, the Sant'Anselmo-trained liturgist becomes the US' youngest head of a Latin-church diocese.

While the relative youth of both (not to mention their shared use of their middle names) will stand out on the wider scene – and, to be sure, their active service will stretch into the 2040s – the striking piece internally is the outsize experience and reputation each brings to the bench. Indeed, having known them both for what feels like ages, these choices respectively possess a degree of ecclesial firepower beyond their years, and from a national vantage, to see them come up together is the most significant thing of all.

Far unlike some recent nods which few, if any, could foresee, today's bishops-elect have been (pun intended) marked out for years by their colleagues and the prelates they now join. In Spalding's case, the Nashville pick has garnered "rising star" buzz since before 2011, when he replaced his close friend Chuck Thompson as Archbishop Joseph Kurtz's top deputy and pastor of the large, vibrant Holy Trinity parish upon Thompson's ascent as bishop of Evansville. (Likewise a son of Kentucky's "Holy Land," Thompson became the nation's youngest archbishop earlier this year on his transfer to Indianapolis.)

As successor to the beloved native son Bishop David Choby, who died in June after years of health struggles, Spalding inherits what is, by far, the most prominent of the posts for which he's been championed over recent years. Now comprising Tennessee's middle third, the Nashville church is in the midst of a significant boom – while diocesan figures state some 80,000 members on the books, a migration wave of undocumented Hispanics has been estimated at 200,000 or more on top of it, and that's not counting the ongoing addition of transplants from across the US amid the city's rise as a commercial and cultural capital.

Long story short, a young, enthusiastic "career pastor" steeped in administration and able to manage growth is just what the doctor ordered – and that the bishop-elect comes with sufficient Spanish to handle Mass and a scripted homily is icing on the cake. As an added sign of confidence, meanwhile, no priest from outside Tennessee has been elevated to the Nashville seat without prior episcopal experience since 1936... then again, as one of Spalding's email taglines once ran, quoting St Luke's Gospel, "To whom much has been given, much will be required."

In a notable nod to the diocese's burgeoning Latin presence – not to mention the horde of Louisvilleans angling to make the trip – early word from Nashville Chancery relays that Spalding's ordination on Presentation Day (February 2nd) won't be held at the century-old Cathedral of the Incarnation, but the far larger and newer Sagrado Corazon Church (above). Located just across the street from the Grand Ole Opry, the 2,500-seat Hispanic worship-space forms the centerpiece of the onetime Two Rivers evangelical megachurch, whose sprawling compound was acquired by Choby in 2014 to serve as the diocese's administrative and ministerial hub with an eye to its ongoing growth.

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As for McKnight, it's probably not a stretch to say that the happiest place over today's move won't be the Wichita mega-parish losing its pastor, nor the destination where he's arriving sight unseen, but the USCCB Mothership in Washington.

Over his term as director of the bench's secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, Bishop-elect Shawn became an exceedingly well-regarded figure among staff and hats alike, so much so that, after returning home to Jayhawk Country, he was sought for an encore, being nominated as the "outside candidate" for the conference's top day-to-day post, the General Secretariat, at the 2015 election.

While custom held and the building's incumbent #2, Msgr Brian Bransfield, won the post – the vote-totals for which are never released – it's likewise traditional that the runner-up for the job is eventually made a bishop in his own right. And considering how some Whispers ops have mused over recent weeks how Kansas' fresh in-state opening in Salina was tailor-made for McKnight to "get the call," his elevation has come even more quickly than expected.

All that said, no indication has yet emerged on the reason behind Bishop John Gaydos' early retirement nine months before reaching the canonical age of 75. An ever-chatty figure with a raucous sense of humor, the St Louis native – who led the North-Central Missouri fold for over two decades – appeared to be in fine form during last week's meetings in Baltimore.

Per the canons, McKnight must be ordained and installed within four months of today's move. On the wider docket, meanwhile, today's twin nods leave all of two US Latin sees – Richmond and Salina – vacant, with just another three – Washington, Stockton and Las Vegas – led by (arch)bishops serving past retirement age until their respective successors are chosen.

SVILUPPO: From Nashville, Spalding's statement and video of this morning's introduction...

...and from Jefferson City, McKnight's opening remarks, and the presser vid:

Before introducing his successor, the retiring Gaydos told the locals that recent heart trouble, including a valve replacement, spurred his request to leave office a year ahead of schedule.