Kansas City, Mo. — Catholics in northwest Missouri who want to know what to expect from their new bishop, should look to his work in founding a Catholic Worker farm just outside Springfield, Mo., says Nicholas Lund-Molfese, director of that farm.
Bishop James Johnston was appointed bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., Sept. 15. His predecessor, Bishop Robert Finn, had resigned in April, the climax of two and half years of bitter division in the diocese because of Finn’s mishandling of a clergy abuse case.
Johnston acknowledged the need for healing when he was introduced at a press conference Tuesday, Sept 15.
“I believe that the diocese still has a great need for some healing,” Johnston said. “I see my role as the bishop as sort of being a physician’s assistant, to be a person that facilitates some of that healing and actually also bringing the church together, providing some clarity so that we can really put our focus and our energy, our passion on what we’re called to be as church.”
It’s a job Johnston is well suited for, according to Lund-Molfese.
“He is a man of calm and peace. He can go into a tense situation and lower the temperature of the room,” he said. “He knows when to let people go on and when to also let them know they’ve been heard. If people are upset he can take it. He can even acknowledge they have a right to be upset.
“Once he’s a member of the church there, that’s where he is, that’s going to be his family and if there’s suffering there, that’s something he is going to share in.”
Johnston is not a stranger at Trinity Hills Catholic Worker House and Farm.
“When he comes out, he really cares about talking with the homeless,” said Lund-Molfese. “He’s had meals with them. I don’t know how many bishops take time out of their schedule to have dinner with the homeless and meet their families and talk to them. He’s been out here numerous times for those meals. He really seems to enjoy it. He’s that kind of guy. He likes people, he’s energized by it.”
Lund-Molfese said he hopes the next bishop has the same heart and courage for serving the poor. He said it takes a lot of courage.
“It’s not just a feel-good thing to do to serve the poor for the church,” he said. “Johnston supported us in every single challenge that has come up. He’s got a warm heart and some guts.”
Trinity Hills is the only Catholic Worker house sponsored by a diocese in the U.S. currently. Lund-Molfese said they are committed to carrying on the work of the ministry.
The farm raises sheep, goats, chickens and donkeys. It has donated more than 32,700 eggs to local organizations and provides places to live. Guests share in the work of the house and farm. They have served over 3,800 people and counseled over 200 people on the phone. The farm consists of 126 acres. Guests have included those escaping domestic violence, homeless children and runaways, women in crisis pregnancies, migrants and refugees, families and victims of trafficking, as well as those who would be vulnerable in an institutional setting such as those with physical or mental disabilities.
In addition to his support of Trinity Hills, Johnston started and approved Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri.
While the groundwork had been laid out before Johnston came to be bishop “he is the one that greenlighted it I believe,” said Lund-Molfese. “He would be the founding bishop of Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri.”
The staff at Trinity Hills prays the Liturgy of the Hours for the intentions of Johnston, Pope Francis and all who have asked for prayers. When asked if the intentions will continue for Johnston, Lund-Molfese said as long as he is there they will pray for his intentions.
“I think it’s good for every bishop to share with the people their burden of leadership,” he said. “It’s a way for the people of God to share in the bishop’s ministry and share the hopes, joys and sorrows. It’s personal if it is done right.”
[Elizabeth A. Elliott, is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.]