Fr. J. Ronald Knott was ordained in 1970 after graduating from Saint Meinrad School of Theology with a Master of Divinity degree. He also holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in parish revitalization from McCormick Presbyterian Seminary in Chicago. As a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, he served as pastor of the Cathedral of the Assumption from 1983 to 1997. During that time, Bellarmine President Joseph J. McGowan and his wife, Maureen, attended Mass there periodically. “One day, Dr. McGowan said to me, ‘One day you will be working at Bellarmine,’” Fr. Ron says. “I laughed it off since it had not even crossed my mind.” But in 1999 he started celebrating Masses on Sunday nights at Bellarmine, and he has been Director of Catholic Worship ever since. In fact, he says, “I have been told that I am the longest-serving campus minister in the history of Bellarmine – 16 years this fall.” In addition to leading the Sunday night Mass, he delivers the homily at the annual Baccalaureate Mass, and in 2010, he started a Blue Christmas Mass in Our Lady of the Woods Chapel. In 2004, he founded the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates, a continuing-education program, at Saint Meinrad. He also writes a weekly column, An Encouraging Word, for the diocesan paper The Record. Fr. Ron recently blessed Bellarmine Magazine with a few moments of his time to participate in our Q&A.
You retired as founding director of the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates in June 2014. Do you still have any involvement with the Institute?
I still go back for short programs and I still lead priest retreats and convocations. I have led over 100 in seven countries, mainly here and Canada. I have 15 more on my calendar.
What is the Blue Christmas Mass, and what inspired its creation?
The Blue Christmas Mass is a Mass for those who are grieving during the holidays and who do not want a traditional lively Christmas celebration, but something more subdued. I had the time and location to do it, so I started it five years ago. We always have a standing-room-only crowd. It takes place about two hours before our regular Christmas Mass. This year we will give out a book that I just published containing five Blue Christmas homilies. It is called The Lord Is Close to the Brokenhearted.
You have another book coming out this year as well, a collection of 12 homilies you’ve given at Bellarmine Baccalaureate Masses.
Yes, this collection is called A Passion for Personal and Vocational Excellence: A Dozen Bellarmine Baccalaureate Exhortations (Sophronismos Press, 2015). They hopefully contain some helpful wisdom for all Bellarmine graduates going forward, Catholic or not. [Fr. Knott also published a collection of chapel homilies called Sunday Nights: Encouraging Words for Young Adults, in 2000.]
In your opinion, what is it that makes a Catholic university special, both for those students who are of the Catholic faith and those who are not?
I believe what makes a Catholic university special is that it seriously attempts to form the whole person – mind, body and spirit. It is a place where Catholics can move from an inherited family faith to a freely chosen personal faith and a place where people of other religions (or no religion at all) can be respected and be encouraged to meet their highest potential.
How has campus ministry changed in your time here? There’s a lot of talk these days about how the Millennial generation is “spiritual but not religious.” Does that hold true in your experience?
I spend most of my time, because I am only part-time, leading worship services for Catholic students on Sunday nights and special occasions. I try to “hang out” on campus and be available to anyone who would like to meet with me. I think maybe a few students tend to be more “traditional” than they were a few years ago, at least on the surface. “Spiritual but not religious” seems to be a cultural trend these days across age groups. I can meet students there, if that is where they are, but personally I think that is a false split. I think the best place to be is to be spiritual and religious. In my estimation, spirituality gives religion a heart, but the heart needs an outside corrective to keep it honest. Otherwise, the truth becomes anything I happen to feel it is, whether it is really true or not.
Carla Carlton | email@example.com