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12/23/2008 9:25:00 AM Email this articlePrint this article 
After celebrating the closing Mass for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Eucharistic Congress in October 2000 at the MCI Center, Cardinal James Hickey processes from the altar, assisted by Msgr. Barry Knestout, his priest secretary from 1994 until the cardinal’s death in 2004. CS FILE PHOTO BY MICHAEL HOYT
The example of Cardinal James Hickey gave future bishop glimpse at 'heart of Church'


In the summer of 1989, Cardinal Hickey ordained Father Barry Knestout to the priesthood, part of an ordination class of 10 men, the largest in the Archdiocese of Washington in many years.

Then five years later, Cardinal Hickey named him as his priest secretary, a role the young priest would fill for the next decade, until the cardinal's death in 2004.

In his eulogy at Cardinal Hickey's funeral, Msgr. Knestout said that experience working beside Cardinal Hickey and being with him in his last years had brought him "close to the heart of the Church."

Msgr. Knestout noted at the funeral that the cardinal "lived a long and fruitful life teaching about Christ. The cardinal taught the truth about Christ, in love." He later said, "He was a man of the Church. He gave his life in service to the Church."

At the end of the funeral Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Msgr. Knestout was among several local priests serving as pallbearers carrying the cardinal's casket down the shrine's steps. And in the years since, he has carried the lessons learned from Cardinal Hickey's example in his heart, lessons he will take with him as he is ordained a new auxiliary bishop for Washington on Dec. 29.

"He taught me a lot about the priesthood, and about being a good bishop," Bishop Knestout said in a recent interview, discussing how Cardinal Hickey became his mentor, friend and a spiritual father.

"All of our archbishops have given themselves without reserve for the good of the Church, " said Bishop Knestout, also praising the example of Archbishop Donald Wuerl, whom he serves as moderator of the curia and vicar for admininstration, and the example of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington whom he served as a priest secretary, parish priest and administrator.

Cardinal Hickey, Washington's archbishop from 1980-2000, greatly expanded the archdiocese's service to the poor and strengthened its educational outreach, presiding over the largest expansion of the local church since the post-World War II baby boom. A skilled administrator, Cardinal Hickey was also known for quiet acts of charity, visiting sick and dying priests and visiting the forgotten at local prisons and retirement homes during the Christmas season.

Bishop Knestout remembered Cardinal Hickey once telling him, "What we do, because it is important, we do with care."

In the fall of 2000, just one month before his retirement, Cardinal Hickey presided at the archdiocesan Eucharistic Congress at what was then the MCI Center and is now known as the Verizon Center. The closing Mass drew a spirited crowd of about 14,000 people from throughout the area, setting the stage for the archdiocese's annual pro-life youth rallies at that same venue.

Photos from that Mass show Cardinal Hickey smiling happily as he blesses the crowd. "It was the culmination of 20 years of service to the Church, all summed up in that Eucharist, that gathering, that thanksgiving," said Bishop Knestout. "The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It was the source of Cardinal Hickey's life."

That event, he said, was also a summit in the cardinal's life of service to the Church, "a beautiful way of Cardinal Hickey rounding out his life as archbishop."

After Cardinal Hickey offered his final blessing, then-Msgr. Knestout was there to support the cardinal's arm and help him process from the altar.

Over the next four years, the cardinal's health became increasingly frail, and he was given loving care by the Little Sisters of the Poor, by the Brothers of Charity, and by Msgr. Knestout and by friends who visited him.

The cardinal died in the fall of 2004, and Msgr. Knestout, in his eulogy, said he had been privileged to anoint Cardinal Hickey before his death and to join the cardinal in the last Mass he celebrated.

"Later in his life, Cardinal Hickey was able to receive back that charity and love" he had given, Bishop Knestout said. "It was appropriate someone who gave himself in service to the Church was cared for by the Church in his later years."

Now as Bishop Knestout prepares to begin his new service to the Church, he will carry with him lessons learned from being "close to the heart of the Church.

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