By JESSICA ABLE and MARNIE McALLISTER, Record Staff
LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Diocese of Lexington’s newly appointed leader said at a press conference March 12 that worship and service would be his priorities as the diocese’s third bishop.
Conventual Franciscan Father John Stowe — now Bishop-elect Stowe — was appointed to the diocese by Pope Francis earlier that morning. The 48-year-old’s episcopal ordination and installation in Lexington will be May 5.
The bishop-elect opened the press conference in Lexington with a couple of jokes — wondering if the diocese that’s home to the University of Kentucky Wildcats releases blue smoke at the appointment of a new bishop.
He also noted that he had limited experience in the diocese. He visited Appalachia in the 1990s, where, he said he was impressed by the natural beauty.
“I learned a lot about the importance of the environment in that visit, surrounded by that great beauty,” he said. “And I learned a lot about the history and the struggles of the people of Appalachia.
“I learned that the church can be vibrant and make an impact and transform lives even when it only makes up a small percentage of the population,” he said.
Appalachia’s rampant poverty is an opportunity for the diocese’s small Catholic community — which comprises about 3 percent of the population — to live the Gospel, he said.“Pope Francis has stated repeatedly he wants to see a poor church for the poor,” he noted. “We certainly have the ingredients for that church here.”
Bishop-elect Stowe also spoke to the Hispanic and Latino communities in the diocese, telling them in Spanish that he was “formed” by Hispanic Catholics as a priest and a pastor. “And the enthusiasm and vibrance with which they live the faith has made a huge difference in my life,” he said.
Calling Hispanic and Latino Catholics a “life-giving presence in the American church,” the bishop-elect said the church must “rise to meet new demographics” and “celebrate the gifts they bring.”
Prior to his appointment, Bishop-elect Stowe served as vicar provincial of the Conventual Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Consolation, Mount St. Francis, Ind., and rector of the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio.
Conventual Franciscan Father James Kent, the province’s minister provincial, welcomed the news of the appointment in a statement released March 12.
“He is a man of deep faith and integrity, with a sharp and inquisitive intellect, all rooted in a genuine pastoral heart,” Father Kent said. “While we are saddened that he will no longer be able to share his many gifts with our Franciscan friars, we know that the Diocese of Lexington will be abundantly blessed.”
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz hailed the appointment of Bishop-elect Stowe and welcomed him to the Province of Louisville.
“Bishop-elect Stowe brings a strong spiritual presence, evidenced in his leadership at the Franciscan Shrine in Ohio, and a wealth of pastoral experience, including his service to the Latino community in El Paso, Texas,” Archbishop Kurtz wrote in a statement released by the chancery in Louisville.
The archbishop also said he would pledge his support and prayers to the bishop-elect and “for the priests, religious and lay faithful of the Diocese of Lexington.”
Bishop-elect Stowe, who grew up in Lorain, Ohio, made his solemn profession as a Conventual Franciscan on Aug. 1, 1992, and was ordained Sept. 16, 1995.
Educated by Jesuits, he earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Louis University in 1990; a master of divinity from Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, in 1993 and a licentiate in sacred theology from Jesuit School of Theology in 1995.
Following ordination, he served as associate pastor (1995-1997), administrator (1997-2000) and pastor (2000-2003) of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in El Paso, Texas. In the Diocese of El Paso, he also served as vicar general from 2003 to 2010 and chancellor from 2008 to 2010, while serving as administrator of Our Lady of the Valley Church.
During his time in El Paso, Bishop-elect Stowe taught in the Tepeyac Institute for lay ministry and in the permanent diaconate formation programs for the Dioceses of Las Cruces and El Paso. He also was active in community organizing with an organization named EPISO, the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization.
He has served as vicar provincial of the Conventual Franciscans and rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation since 2010.
He succeeds Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, who was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Penn., Jan. 24, 2014.
The Diocese of Lexington, which was established in 1988, covers 16,423 square miles across 50 counties in Central and Eastern Kentucky with 63 parishes and has a total population of 1,588,319 people, of whom about 48,000, or about three percent, are Catholic.