By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
Every week for 15 years, readers of The Record could expect to find at least one note of encouragement when they turned to page 4 and read Father J. Ronald Knott’s column.
The retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville disappointed his many fans Sept. 7 when he announced his decision to discontinue “An Encouraging Word” at the end of this month. The Sept. 28 issue of The Record will carry his last scheduled column.
Father Knott began this weekly endeavor in 2002 when he was still serving as director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Vocation Office. He wrote in his first column that it is “dedicated to offering the average Catholic an encouraging word.”
Since then, he has faithfully provided a total of 750 columns — which he wrote as a volunteer, without compensation. And he never missed a single week or even pushed the limits of a deadline.
“It’s been good for me — the discipline of doing it,” Father Knott said during an interview last week.
It’s been good for his readers, too, according to the thousands of thank you notes he has received over the years.
One such missive came recently from Malaysia. Walter “Tom” Yurt, who is from Louisville but living abroad, contacted The Record this summer to show his enthusiasm for Father Knott’s column.
He wrote, “Mom will save up a bunch of the columns and send all at once. And there has been more than one time that her mailings got lost in the mail, but for the most part, I am lucky that every couple of months I receive an envelope with a lot of encouraging words.”
He included two photos showing his apartment floor covered in clippings of the column. “The photos I have attached are not all of the columns my mom has sent, but a selection that were able to fit on my apartment floor.”
Asked about Father Knott’s influence on him, Yurt said, “I always look forward to getting that brown envelope from my mom and always know what’s inside. I immediately open it to see the contents, but always wait for my quiet time, my prayer and meditation time, usually at night, and will read several of Father Knott’s columns at one time. ‘An Encouraging Word’ is an important spiritual link to my life and loved ones in Louisville.”
Yurt isn’t alone in his adulation. A letter that arrived last week from another reader said some of Father Knott’s columns end up on her refrigerator “for all to see” and others “have been exactly what I needed to get me through my problems.”
“You have been a great source of encouragement to me over the years,” she wrote.
Letters like these have made it hard for Father Knott to let go, he said. But, as he wrote in a recent column, “How fortunate it is to have something that you really miss. How lucky I was to have this opportunity.”
“I’m humbled by it,” he said. “I’m not the best wordsmith in the world, but I have this knack for connecting to ‘ordinary Catholics.’ ”
He has attributed that knack over the years, in part to his childhood growing up at St.Theresa Church in Rhodelia, Ky., the setting of many of Father Knott’s columns.
Regular readers of Father Knott will know that while he wrote “An Encouraging Word,” he also served at St. Meinrad Seminary, where he directed the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates, served as a chaplain at Bellarmine University and traveled the world offering retreats to groups of priests.
Before he took up his weekly writing assignment, Father Knott served as rector of the Cathedral of the Assumption for 14 years and prior to that, he served at parishes in the Southern Kentucky Missions. All of these assignments have been the subjects of his musings over the years.
He noted during an interview last week that his column grew out of a difficult time in the church. The clergy sexual abuse crisis had hit the Archdiocese of Louisville earlier in 2002 and morale across the diocese — among lay people and clergy alike — had plummeted.
His introductory column on Sept. 26, 2002, explains, “During this sex scandal in the church, I have been concerned about the nearly 200,000 Catholics in our archdiocese, especially those who were barely hanging on before this came to light. At first I thought there was nothing I could do to help them. I was wrong.”
Father Knott pitched his column idea to then-editor Joseph Duerr, who took a chance and was rewarded with a much loved and faithful columnist.
Also among his fans, Father Knott may also count Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz.
“I must say that his column has been the most read and loved of all in The Record,” the archbishop said. “I for one will miss them, too! He is a talented priest with a fine pastoral sense.”
Father Knott said he plans to continue writing on his blog, FatherKnott.com, but intends to also devote more of his time to his ministry in the Carribean. He has been assisting the Diocese of St. Vincent and the Grenadines through a group he started called “The Second Wind Guild,” a mission group designed for retired professionals, though he’ll accept help from those still working, too.
“It’s something for retired U.S. priests and lay people,” he said. Priests are needed to help with Masses in the diocese, which only has seven priests. And lay people with all sorts of skills are needed — from educators to those who understand telecommunications. A psychologist recently visited and identified the needs of children in an orphanage, he noted.
With the help of donors and his own funds, Father Knott has already helped the diocese renovate a pastoral center and provide space for overnight visitors, an office, kitchen and other amenities that will make visitors from the United States more comfortable, he said.
“All the money I’ve made off the books and priest retreats goes down there” to the Carribean mission, he said.
Father Knott has compiled his columns into a series of 15 books called “For The Record” — one for each year of “An Encouraging Word.” The final book in the series is available now.
“For The Record XV” and previous books in the series are offered for free with a $12.95 donation to Father Knott’s work in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). The books are available for pick up at The Record office, 1200 S. Shelby St., with a tax deductible donation of cash or a check made to St. Bartholomew Church — SVG Mission Fund. The books are also available online at ronknottbooks.com and at Tonini’s Church Supply Co.
Direct donations to his mission also may be made to St. Bartholomew SVG Mission Fund and mailed to Father Knott at 1271 Parkway Gardens Court #106, Louisville, Ky., 40217.