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story.lead_photo.caption Bishop John Gaydos, seated at left, smiles after comments from the Rev. Shawn McKnight, standing, who was introduced Tuesday as the bishop-elect for the Jefferson City Diocese. Gaydos is stepping down for health reasons. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Pope Francis has named the Rev. Shawn McKnight, 49, a priest in the Wichita diocese, as the next bishop for the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City.

Bishop-elect McKnight will be the fourth bishop of the diocese since its founding in 1956, according to church officials.

Archbishop Christopher Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, made the announcement Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C.

McKnight was ordained a priest for the Wichita diocese in May 1994. He served as executive director of the Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2010-15. He also has held numerous professional and academic society positions, among them serving as director of liturgy and director of formation at the Pontifical College Josephinum.

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop John Gaydos, who served as the third bishop of Jefferson City. Gaydos will turn 75 this August and said during a Tuesday news conference the reason for his departure was health concerns.

Gaydos said he had been dealing with hypertension and arterial fibrillation. He also had a heart valve replaced.

"In prayer, I brought to God that I simply did not have the strength and stamina of even a few years ago," he said. "I also thought our diocese would benefit greatly from a new bishop. With that in mind, I wrote to Pope Francis sharing my observations and expressing my willingness to retire. I assured him that if he thought I should stay on as bishop that I would be most willing to do so. Pope Francis agreed to accept my retirements, and we began the process that has led us to this moment."

Gaydos was appointed bishop of Jefferson City by Pope John Paul II on June 25, 1997, and was ordained as bishop that August. He also served within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as chairman of the Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry, now known as the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

The Jefferson City diocese comprises 22,127 square miles. It has a total population of 920,234 people, of which 81,958 (11 percent) are Catholic.

Until McKnight is ordained Feb. 6 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City, Gaydos will serve as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Jefferson City.

Gaydos said he plans to live the rest of his life in Jefferson City. Some of the highlights of his 20 years as bishop include building the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center near the cathedral on West Main Street, the new facilities at Helias High School, and the addition of Father Tolton Catholic High School in Columbia.

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Church officials said McKnight will be one of the youngest bishops in the United States. He also is the first Jefferson City bishop to be appointed from outside of Missouri.

"As I see it, Pope Francis is not so much giving the Diocese of Jefferson City to me, but rather he is giving me to you in service to God to teach, sanctify and shepherd the people of our local church," he said. "I am especially keen to learn how we are evangelizing those in our community, especially the youth, and how we are promoting a culture of vocations among them."

McKnight said he looks forward to establishing new friendships with members of the other Christian communities in the diocese.

"It was the desire of our Lord at the Last Supper that we all be one in Him, and so it is our obligation to work towards greater unity in what we believe and how we manifest our faith in action," he said. "I want to work with people of non-Christian faiths, too, especially the Jewish and Muslim communities in our area, to promote mutual respect and appreciation for one another. With our governmental officials who hold the people's trust in civil society, I plan to work cooperatively with them to bring about greater peace, justice, the defense of human dignity and the protection of religious freedom within our communities."


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