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|Father J. Ronald Knott|
Conferral speech for the Distinguished Alumnus Award given at the 2010 Saint MeinradAlumni Reunion
Presented August 3, 2010
by Dr. Carney Strange, President, Alumni Board of Directors
Every priest has imagined at one time or another telling his bishop how he could be doing a better job. Father James Ronald Knott gets to do it for a living.
Ron Knott grew up in the small town of Rhodelia, Kentucky, the first son and second of seven children born to James William Knott and Mary Ethel Mattingly. When it came time for high school, Ron entered St. Thomas minor seminary in Louisville before finishing his priesthood formation at Saint Meinrad.
He recalled how he fell in love with Saint Meinrad on his first visit and prayed that he would be allowed to attend it, instead of St. Mary’s in Baltimore, the other possible option. About his years at Saint Meinrad, Father Ron recalled, "As an arriving student, I would refer to myself as the fig tree in the gospel that some would have cut down. It was St. Meinrad who said, ‘Let’s dig around it and fertilize around it first and then we will see what becomes of it.’”
Further, he recalled, "at the time, Saint Meinrad was especially big into imaginative thinking and the encouragement of self-expression. Even though it could not foresee the practical situations I would be in as a priest, it taught me to be imaginative and resourceful, which has come in handy in the home missions, country parish and urban cathedral. Saint Meinrad prepared me to be imaginative in whatever situation I found myself.”
Father Knott took that preparation and ran with it. Archbishop Thomas Joseph McDonough sent the newly ordained priest off to the Appalachian missions. Although some might complain or even protest to such an assignment, Ron rolled up his sleeves and went to work. Since the Catholic population was very small in the Appalachian mountain range, few came to Mass weekly. So Ron decided to take the gospel to the people and literally began preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the towns’ streets.
Fast-forward 13 years to 1983 where, at the ripe age of 38, Father Knott was appointed rector of Assumption Cathedral, both a building and a community showing its age. Told by his Archbishop to "do something,” Ron again put his imagination to work. Finding no Catholic program to help him develop the skills he needed for this particular job description, he enrolled in McCormick Presbyterian Seminary in Chicago, where he earned a Doctorate of Ministry in parish revitalization. Father Knott not only oversaw an extensive $11 million renovation of the cathedral building; he also brought new life and ministry to the community.
In 1983, the Cathedral parish had about 100 registered parishioners, an altar sodality, 4 lectors, and a paid choir. When he left in 1997, the community had increased by more than 2,000 parishioners and had begun several new ministries in adult and children’s education and elderly ministry. The cathedral’s outreach to Louisville’s poor and homeless became a focus for the parish. Concerts, art programs and speakers were brought in, including one Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.
For six years after leaving the Cathedral, Father Knott served as the Archdiocese’s vocations director. It was in this role that Ron came to a deep realization of how priesthood, and more significantly, presbyteral formation, needed reform. So again he tapped into his imagination and came up with the idea that would continue formation for priests and presbyterates following seminary.
Father Knott recalled, "When I could not get others to buy into the ideas that later became the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates, I presented them to the monks of Saint Meinrad in the chapter room. I thought that they, being very foresighted and appreciative of new ideas, just might get behind them. They did, and with the assistance of the Lilly Endowment, Saint Meinrad is now known across the country as leaders in ongoing formation for young priests in their first five years and around the world for our ongoing formation of presbyterates in their unity.”
To date, Saint Meinrad’s Institute for Priests and Presbyterates has served over 150 priests in one or more of its programs. Additionally, models for unity among diocesan priests in collegiality with their bishops have been presented or are being used in approximately 75 dioceses, both here in the United States and abroad. Father Knott has addressed the United States bishops on several occasions, most recently in June of this year.
On top of all this, Father Knott is now in his eighth year writing a weekly column for the Archdiocese’s newspaper; each year, the columns have been published in book form as part of a series. He has also authored the book, "Intentional Presbyterates: Claiming our Common Sense of Purpose” and its accompanying workbook, as well as his latest work, "From Seminarian to Diocesan Priest: Managing a Successful Transition. Fr. Knott’s books are being utilized in educational programs in the United States, India, Africa, the Philippines, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Father Knott has served the Church in countless other ways—as a campground minister, a sociology instructor, a chaplain at a juvenile corrections center, a homiletics instructor, a tour chaplain, a facilitator of dozens of parish missions, a liturgical consultant, a church furniture designer, and a convention speaker and retreat master. As if this were not enough, Father Knott offers Mass for the students of Bellarmine University, the college founded by Saint Meinrad’s first distinguished alumnus, Monsignor Alfred Horrigan.
Bellarmine’s campus minister and alumna of Saint Meinrad’s Lay Ministry Degree Program, Melanie-Prejean Sullivan wrote of Father Knott, "Father Knott meets and greets students with a smile and a challenge always to persevere and to improve. He loves being a priest and manifests that in his homilies and his life. He is a perfect example of a fine priest, a creative thinker and a caring man.”
For his tremendous work with priests and presbyterates, the National Federation of Priests’ Councils honored Father Knott with the Touchstone Award in 2008. The recipient of the Touchstone Award is chosen because his leadership enhances the ministry of others and his words and deeds support the life and ministry of priests; thus he is, as it were, a "touchstone” for genuine, quality priesthood. He has also been honored with the National Conference of Christians and Jews Humanitarian Award and The Louisville Forum’s "Fleur-de-lis Award” for community service.
And so to the Reverend James Ronald Knott, the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association is both proud and grateful to honor you as one of our most distinguished alumni. Congratulations.