Bishop Richard Stika was ordained on Thursday, March 19, with great fanfare and ceremony. Stika has spent most of his vocational life serving the St. Louis Archdiocese, both as priest of several parishes and in numerous official diocese appointments. Stika was for several years secretary to Cardinal Rigali, then Archbishop of St. Louis, who consecrated him at his recent ordination.
Bishop Stika's predecessor, Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz, was called away to Louisville, Ky., in summer of 2007, where he is now archbishop. An interim governing body, led by Father T. Allen Humbrecht, diocesan administrator, has been taking care of daily operations during the absence of a bishop. So even though Stika certainly has his hands full, his to-do list is not as long and complicated as you might imagine. He says his immediate priorities are very basic.
"Coming into this situation, I still have to assess the diocese," says Stika, two days before his ordination. "I know that the diocese over its almost 21 years of history has grown enormously. It's a very vibrant church. It's a very solid church. The challenges will be to provide the spiritual services that are so necessary to nurture one's spiritual life; to make sure there are enough priests and deacons and catechists and those avowed in teaching the faith; to make sure that when someone comes into our church they feel welcome. There are practical aspects to church, budgets and church buildings and youth meetings and such. To make sure that we have a wonderful outreach to those who wish to have their faith nurtured. I think those are the challenges."
There's a pretty steady stream of press coverage on the subject of declining numbers among Americans seeking vocations in the Catholic Church. But Stika says that Knoxville is uncommonly strong in that regard.
"I think the Diocese of Knoxville is greatly blessed," he says. "We have a number of seminarians, a number of prospects for next year. Our parishes for the most part are covered by at least one priest. I think that with the prayer of the people of this diocese, and with active engagement by parishioners with those they see considering a call to ministry, I think we'll continue to grow in vocations as well as the membership of our diocese.
"My major priority right now is to get to know the diocese. I've had some contact with diocesan officials. I've had some contact with people in the diocese and also people who are related to people in the diocese. A number of my parishioners in St. Louis either know someone here or are related to someone in Knoxville. Over the next month, I just want to step back and see what's going on. There are decisions that have to be made, because the diocese was vacant for almost a year and a half. This is a beautiful diocese. And I'm not coming in here as some savior or messiah. I'm coming in here as their bishop, as their shepherd, as their brother in faith."