Family photo courtesy of Bishop Barry Knestout
Family photo courtesy of Bishop Barry Knestout

Even while he was in the midst of his busy schedule as auxiliary bishop of Washington and Moderator of the Curia, Bishop Barry Knestout still made time to visit his mom, Caroline Knestout, about once a week at her home in Odenton, Maryland.

While he was with her, he would drive her to the store, take her to church, visit one of her other children, or sometimes pick apples at a nearby farm. His mom, a retired nurse who is now 90, would repay him with a home-cooked meal. It was during one of these visits that Bishop Knestout first got the call telling him that he had been asked by Pope Francis to serve in Richmond. But because it was a papal secret, he couldn’t share the news right away.

Brian Knestout, the youngest of the nine Knestout children who works as an attorney for the Federal Reserve, said his mom’s residence serves as the central meeting point for the siblings, all of whom still live relatively close by. Julie Peters, a retired court clerk, is the only Knestout sibling who does not currently live in Maryland, but she does live in the Diocese of Richmond, and is a parishioner of Resurrection Church in Moneta, Virginia. When her husband passed away a year ago, Bishop Knestout visited that parish to celebrate the Funeral Mass.

After the family heard the news about Bishop Knestout’s appointment, “We were really excited for him,” said Peters. “We think it is a good opportunity for him and many parishioners (at her parish) were as happy as I was that he was selected to be our bishop…They remember him from that Funeral Mass and felt that he was a good listener and gave a good homily, and they just felt more in touch with the bishop having had a personal interaction with him.”

For the Knestout siblings, Bishop Knestout is still “just my brother Barry,” Brian said. Growing up, the siblings recalled how they wrestled and argued just like most siblings, but on the whole, the Knestouts have remained close, both geographically and personally.

Brian thinks part of their closeness traces back the family’s move to Turkey when he was just a small child. They lived there for four years after their father moved there while he worked for the government.

“That very formative experience in those years, being in foreign Islamic country with a very different culture, that may have formed some of that cohesiveness,” he said. “We relied on each other a lot.”

Another factor, he said, was the strong faith instilled in the children by their parents, which they all still practice today.

“I can count, growing up, the number of Masses I missed on one hand. If you didn’t have a 103-degree fever, you were going to church,” said Brian. “…My mom and dad really did live the faith deeply. And it wasn’t just the outward show, they really relied on it. To a degree you had to with nine kids,” said Brian, recalling different injuries and emergency room visits and financial challenges.

“They always relied on that sense that God would provide and that really did have an impact on us growing up,” he said. “We could see how they lived, and we just followed in that mold.”

All eight of Bishop Knestout’s siblings plan to attend his installment as bishop of Richmond on Jan. 12, along with their mom and some other out-of-own relatives. Mrs. Knestout said she believes her husband, Thomas, who died about 20 years ago, is “looking overhead and seeing what’s going on.”

For them, Bishop Knestout’s appointment is “bittersweet,” Brian said, because it is a big honor for Bishop Knestout, but will make for a busy schedule and a longer drive back to see his close-knit family.

While she said she will miss him, Bishop Knestout’s mom said the appointment is “something nice for the family.”

“He’s worked hard,” she said. “He enjoys what he’s doing. He just loves it.”

Julie noted her brother’s calmness and stability as strengths that she thinks he will bring with him to her diocese.

“Barry has always been very even tempered and he is very good at listening and understanding both sides of a story, or sometimes more than one or two sides of a story,” she said. “…With a large family…you have to learn to get along with a lot of personalities.”

Brian said he believes his brother will do a good job in his new role, because he has always had “a steady hand on the tiller,” referring to the mechanism that steers a sailboat.

“He deals with crises pretty well. Not that he doesn’t get stressed out – everybody does – but he is able to focus on the goal and maneuver through the rough spots,” he explained. “Mom and Dad were very faithful people and I think having that basis, that stability there of knowing whatever happens, he will do his best, but he puts things in God’s hands. Having that kind of true unshakable faith enables you to ride out difficult spots and bad spots, and I think he has all those kinds of things in spades.”

While he believes Bishop Knestout will do a good job as Bishop of Richmond, Brian recalled that his brother had never sought out that honor.

“His goal was to be a good parish priest. That is all he wanted to be,” said Brian. “Becoming a bishop has just followed from that. He just seeks to be a good pastor. I think the scope of that has just widened for him.”