With the Feast of the Holy Family on Sunday, the Catholic Standard in Washington has a wonderful glimpse at how one family aspiring to holiness produced two priests — one of whom is about to be ordained a bishop.
And their father? He was a deacon.
Sometimes as a teen, new Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout missed the Washington Redskins’ games on Sundays, because his dad, Deacon Thomas Knestout, would “drag us along,” bringing Barry and another brother with him as the deacon ministered at a state hospital serving people with mental and physical disabilities.
“As a teen and a kid, I didn’t always appreciate the importance of that witness,” said Bishop Knestout, who added that he does now.
“As I look back on that, I realize the tremendous gift that was shared in that work,” said the new bishop, reflecting on the example of his father, who died in 1997.
Deacon Thomas Knestout worked as a cryptologist for the National Security Agency and served for many years as the director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate for the Archdiocese of Washington. Known for his resonant voice and happy demeanor, he was active in the Charismatic Renewal prayer movement for many years.
A New Jersey native, he met his future wife Caroline on a blind date, on a crabbing trip on the Delaware Bay. She later joked that the biggest crab she caught that day was her future husband. They were married for 43 years and had nine children.
In addition to raising her family, Caroline Knestout also worked over the years as a nurse and in prenatal care at Prince George’s Hospital in Cheverly, and as a school nurse at Fox Hill Elementary School in Bowie.
Bishop Knestout described his mom as “the heart of our family,” who emphasized the importance of attending Mass, praying together and sharing family meals. She also played a key role in family celebrations over the years as her children received the sacraments and reached milestones in their lives. “My mom has always been a very steady, pragmatic person,” he said, noting she offered an example of “steady fidelity to family and friends.” Her “care and love for us” was always present, the bishop said.
In an interview just before his son Barry was ordained to the priesthood in 1989, Deacon Knestout said that he and his wife were proud of all nine of their children. “They practice their faith – all of them. That gives us a great sense of accomplishment,” he said. “We haven’t given them wealth. We haven’t built up a family empire. What we have given them is their faith… There’s nothing of greater value we could have given them.”
Deacon Knestout preached at the first Mass of his son, Father Barry Knestout, in 1989 at their home parish, St. Pius X in Bowie. Later, Father Barry Knestout would in turn preach at the first Mass of his brother, Father Mark Knestout, in 1998.
Over the years, Bishop Knestout has undertaken a variety of work for the archdiocese, each with its own challenges, from being a parish priest to serving as priest secretary to Cardinal James Hickey and then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to heading the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry, to his current work as moderator of the curia (chief of staff) and vicar of administration for the archdiocese. As his parents did, he tries to center his life around the Mass and around prayer, and he has remained close to his brothers and sisters.
The words and example of Bishop Knestout’s parents still resonate, such as when his father once told him, “The mark of a man is not how well he does things he enjoys, but how well he does the things that are difficult, the challenges of life.”
He remembers how his dad was a man devoted to his family and to his faith, and demonstrated “the willingness to sacrifice for a greater good, for the good of others.”
Those lessons learned, during visits to a hospital, at their parish church and school and at the family dinner table, continue to shape the man who will become a new auxiliary bishop for Washington.
“I always saw our lives as very ordinary lives that have been touched in a special way by God’s grace,” he said.
Photo: Barry Knestout, seated in the front row at the left, will be ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Washington on Monday, December 29th. His parents are pictured in the center.