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Southern Missouri's 66,000 Catholics just got a new Bishop. KSMU's Greg Leuthen recently sat down with Bishop James Vann Johnston and talked about his call to priesthood, his new position as bishop, and his recent trip to see Pope Benedict XVI
Greg Leuthen: This is Greg Leuthen for KSMU News, and I'm joined by the newest Bishop of the Springfield/Cape Girardeau Diocese, Bishop James Vann Johnston. We are going to be getting to know him and discussing his first few weeks as bishop, but first of all welcome to Springfield.
Bishop James Vann Johnston: Thank you, it's great to be here.
Leuthen: For those who don't know, you are one of the youngest bishops in the U.S., but you were selected to ask the pope a question when he visited America. What did you ask?
Johnston: A lot of people have asked me that. It was a long question, so I'll give you the short version. I asked the Holy Father that given the demands of the current culture in a secular, materialistic world, how would he recommend we bishops assist people in living out their faith in a world which does not always support faith and spiritual principals.
Leuthen: What was his response to that?
Johnston: He pointed out that secularism is not unique to the U.S. We have to encourage people and give them a firm foundation on how to live out their faith, recognizing that they can have confidence in applying the eternal truths that shape their lives. And to really recognize they have a role in bringing that into our broader culture to building a civilization of love and life.
Leuthen: For about a month, you've been bishop of the Springfield/Cape Girardeau Diocese. Tell me a little bit about that. How difficult has it been managing a diocese that is spread out so far? Cape Girardeau to Springfield is about a five hour drive, so how has that been going for you?
Johnston: Well it's certainly a challenge because of the distance. And it's really been a lot of fun to be honest. It's been really rewarding to travel around southern Missouri and meet so many different people that are really good people, and to see in so many different communities what's going on in the church and the faith being lived out in so many different ways.
Leuthen: I heard that when you were younger you were an electrical engineer. How did you become a priest after that?
Johnston: I do have a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Tennessee. My call to the priesthood started becoming clear while I was a student at Tennessee. I really didn't have to certitude that I needed to go to seminary until after I graduated. So I took a job in Houston, Texas working as an engineer. After three years of doing that, by calling to become a priest crystallized to the point where I could make an act of faith and pursue that. So I went ahead and graduated and worked until that happened.
While growing up in Tennessee, Bishop Johnston became an avid sports fan. He says he loves the Tennessee football and basketball programs, and St. Louis Cardinals baseball. Be sure to catch the second part of our interview with Bishop Johnston during "All Things Considered." He discusses his biggest responsiblities and shares his thoughts on St. Louis' controversial Archbishop, Raymond Burke.