By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
In a small diocese in the Caribbean, there’s a priest who regularly hitches a ride on boats to reach his three parishes, which are located on three separate islands.
“He has no way to get to his churches. He has to hitchhike on commercial boats,” said Father J. Ronald Knott, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, who hopes to help this brother priest. “Sometimes he can’t get to the islands for Mass.”
Father Knott recently returned from his fourth visit to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where he led a retreat for priests and spoke to the Antilles Episcopal Conference — the Caribbean counterpart to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
During these visits to the small island nation in the Caribbean, Father Knott said he has to come to learn of the struggles of poor and rural Caribbean dioceses. As a result, he recently created a ministry to help empower the church there and a fund to support it.
The new ministry is called the Catholic Second Wind Guild. It’s designed to be a partnership between a Caribbean diocese and retired priests, religious and lay people. Members of the organization here in the United States will be invited to share their talents and resources to assist the Caribbean church in its mission.
The first chapter is located in the Diocese of Kingstown in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a collection of small islands located where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. The guild will address projects identified by Bishop Gerard County, who leads the Diocese of Kingstown. The first project is the renovation of the diocesan pastoral center, which lacks a functional layout for diocesan gatherings, Father Knott said.
Father Knott said hopes to attract other retired clergy and professionals to invest their time and resources to aid Kingstown and other small dioceses.
“I’m not recruiting young people to go down and paint houses. I’m recruiting professionals to go down and strategize and use their connections to help the people do it themselves,” Father Knott said.
He hopes to enable the local church to be in a position to do their own work and not to become dependent on outside organizations.
“The goal is to empower the diocese to be more effective in its ministries, including outreach to the poor and outreach to the marginalized,” he said.
In the short term, Father Knott said he is seeking to put together a team of six individuals to travel to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in September. He’d like to recruit an executive or retired executive in the plumbing or electrical industry to use their expertise and connections. Volunteers in the communications, shipping and legal fields are also on his wish list.
The guild’s work is funded so far by R J Mission Projects, a charitable organization Father Knott co-founded, that funds a variety of projects. The “R” stands for Ron (as in Father Ronald Knott) and the “J” stands for an anonymous benefactor.
Through R J Mission Projects, Father Knott has raised money to purchase a car for Bishop County so he can visit parishes in his diocese and for two 16-passenger vans.
He also hopes to fund a boat for the hitchhiking priest.
Father Knott said he initially traveled to the Caribbean to “give” but he came home “getting.”
“It gives you a perspective on the world. It shows you how easy we have it compared to the rest of the world — in terms of access to food, transportation, clean water and healthcare,” he said.
Father Knott said he’s not trying to be a social worker or an environmentalist, but still a priest.
“I can’t solve poverty. I want to empower the church to do its mission,” he said.
When he’s not aiding the Caribbean dioceses, Father Knott lives a very active retirement. He leads parish missions, holds priests’ retreats and conducts convocations both nationally and internationally. Proceeds from these ministries are donated to R J Mission Projects.
Father Knott also continues to celebrate Masses at Our Lady of the Woods Chapel at Bellarmine University and fills in at weekend Masses in various parishes throughout the archdiocese as needed. He also writes a weekly column in The Record, offering “An Encouraging Word” to readers.
Father Knott began his presbyteral ministry in the Southern Kentucky Missions. It seems only fitting that he would cap his career with a new ministry in another sort of mission.
For more information, email Father Knott at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog FatherKnott.com to learn more.