UPDATED: Celebrating four milestones (plus one) with Bishop Emeritus Gaydos

Retired bishop offers Mass in Cathedral with fellow bishops, priests and faithful to mark his 80th birthday, 55 years of Diaconate and Priesthood and 25 years as a bishop … and the 80th anniversary of his Baptism


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The shepherd returned, glorifying and praising God for all he had heard and seen, just as it had been told to him.

Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos, who led the Jefferson City diocese from 1997-2018, offered Mass on Aug. 16 with fellow bishops, priests and faithful in the Cathedral of St. Joseph, in thanksgiving for four important milestones.

These include: his 80th birthday on Aug. 14; the 55th anniversary of his ordination to the diaconate in May 1968; the 55th anniversary of his priestly ordination in December 1968; and the 25th anniversary a year ago of his ordination and installation as the third bishop of Jefferson City.

“How fitting it is that we join in these anniversary moments, sharing the Eucharist in thanksgiving for the abundance of God’s grace at the heart of this holy journey of faith!” said Bishop Gaydos, whose surname means “shepherd” in Slovak, the language of his ancestors.

Bishop Edward M. Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, a friend of Bishop Gaydos for nearly half a century, preached the homily.

“You have served the people of God well here over these past 26 years,” Bishop Rice told him. “Fulfilling the words of your episcopal motto, you have given them a ‘shepherd’s care,’ and the Diocese of Jefferson City is all the better for it.”

Joining them at the altar were Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, current bishop of Jefferson City; Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Nebraska; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas; Archbishop Emeritus Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis; and Bishop James V. Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph, along with priests of the Jefferson City diocese and the St. Louis archdiocese.

Sister Kathleen Wegman of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who served as chancellor and director of parish services under Bishop Gaydos and helped him establish a Catholic Charities affiliate in the diocese, and Sandy Gaydos, wife of the bishop's brother, Steve, proclaimed the readings.

“New home”

Bishop McKnight, who succeeded Bishop Gaydos upon his retirement in 2018, welcomed Bishop Gaydos’s family and friends, fellow bishops and archbishops, the many clergy and religious, and all the faithful.

He called to mind part of Bishop Gaydos’s June 25, 1997, statement at the press conference announcing his appointment to lead the Jefferson City diocese:

“The close relationship between the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which has nurtured me from my birth, and the Diocese of Jefferson City is more than a mere concept or nice thought. … In a very real sense, I am moving from ‘Home’ to ‘Home.’”

Central and northeastern Missouri’s third bishop’s official motto would be, “With a Shepherd’s Care.”

Bishop McKnight pointed to several great milestones his predecessor helped bring about during his two-decade tenure:

  • The building of the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center, “a beautiful chancery office with plenty of parking and windows”;
  • the establishment of Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri “as the charitable right arm of the bishop of Jefferson City”; and
  • the opening of Father Tolton Regional Catholic High School.

Bishop McKnight also noted that Bishop Gaydos dedicated four churches, ordained 21 priests and 63 deacons, and met with three popes during his various ad limina visits as a bishop.

Bishop McKnight pointed out that Bishop Gaydos is “the first and only bishop to come to us with a Roman seminary education,” and that he has a demonstrated devotion to the spirit of fraternity among his fellow bishops.

“I am also grateful for Bishop Gaydos’s stories, his jovial spirit, and the fact that he is the best bishop-cook the diocese has ever had,” Bishop McKnight added.

“Thank you, Bishop Gaydos, for making the Diocese of Jefferson City your new home,” he said. “Congratulations! And may God continue to bless your ministry as our bishop emeritus.”

“One who serves”

At age 13, Bishop Rice became one of the first people to welcome Bishop Gaydos to St. Cecilia Parish in St. Louis when the latter was assigned there as a young priest.

The parish reminded Bishop Gaydos of St. Agnes, the tight neighborhood parish he had grown up in a few miles away.

Memories of those days re-emerged in 2012 when Bishop Gaydos, Bishop Rice and fellow prelates of this four-state region made their “ad limina” visit to Pope Benedict XVI and the various offices and dicasteries in the Vatican.

“Pope Benedict was running a little late,” Bishop Rice recalled, “and so we bishops were mulling around waiting to be received, and I was looking out the window over St. Peter’s square, taking it all in, thinking to myself, ‘How in the world did I get here?’”

“And Bishop Gaydos came up to me and said, ‘Not bad for two kids from South St. Louis!’”

Bishop Rice spoke of Bishop Gaydos in the context of a statement in Pope St. Paul VI’s decree on bishops, given at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council: “A father and pastor, the bishop stands in the midst of his people as one who serves.”

“And that is the key to our celebration today!” the homilist declared. “Bishop Gaydos, you have stood in the midst of your people ‘as one who serves.’”

Bishop Rice noted that prior to being appointed to lead the Jefferson City diocese, Bishop Gaydos served diligently in the St. Louis archdiocese as a teacher, associate pastor, secretary to the archbishop, diocesan master of ceremonies, vicar general and pastor.

“As a priest, with every assignment, you were in the midst of the people “as one who serves,’” he stated.

Bishop Rice called to mind another important anniversary for Bishop Gaydos: the 80th anniversary of his Baptism.

“Even your birthday is overshadowed by your Baptism because with your Baptism you were gifted with eternal life,” Bishop Rice noted. “What has brought us here today and what ultimately we are celebrating is your life in Christ.”

Baptism was also where Bishop Gaydos received his priestly vocation.

“Only because you were clothed in Christ in Baptism were you able to be clothed in the priestly garb,” Bishop Rice pointed out. “Throughout your life as a priest and a bishop, you have been able to spread the light of Christ because you were enlightened by Christ at your Baptism.”

“Behold your mother”

Taking on a new role as shepherd of the geographically vast Jefferson City diocese, Bishop Gaydos set about governing, teaching and ministering to the people under his care while also serving on various committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“It’s not that he didn’t have any work to do in his own diocese!” Bishop Rice acknowledged. “But each one of us as bishops must also have a concern for the larger Church, and he did that well.”

Bishop Rice applauded Bishop Gaydos’s decision to offer the Votive Mass for Mary, Mother of the Church, in the context of his anniversary.

“We recognize that with the loving help of Our Lady, the Church bears fruit day by day,” said Bishop Rice. “When all is said and done, that is what we celebrate today: a man, a priest and bishop, who ‘stood in the midst of his people as one who served,’ all under the mantle of Mary, Mother of the Church.

“Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of the Clergy, has been with you every step of the way,” he said. “Like Our Lady, you offered your own ‘fiat,’ saying yes to the will of God and as bishop you accepted the call to serve the people of the Diocese of Jefferson City.

“Like Our Lady,” Bishop Rice continued, “you made haste throughout your diocese to bring the Good News of the Savior, committed to that work for 25 years.

“And, like Our Lady, there were times I’m sure, moments unknown to any of us, times when the burdens of the office brought you to the foot of the cross because you had nowhere else to turn,” he said. “And there, shouldering the burdens, the worries of the shepherd for his sheep, you were strengthened and encouraged by those beautiful words ‘Behold your mother.’”

“Something beautiful”

In a 2018 interview, Bishop Gaydos said there’d never been a day in the past half-century that he didn’t want to be a priest.

“Not every day has been easy, but every day, I am graced,” he said.

He emphasized repeatedly that his vocation is not his doing: “It’s the work of God, and God is calling all of us from beyond ourselves.”

He said it was a great honor to be sent to serve “as shepherd of not just ‘a’ diocese, but this diocese.”

“You get up every day and can’t believe you’re doing this — being able to walk with some of the most wonderful people in the world,” he said.

“God knows we’re not perfect,” he continued. “But together, we are doing something beautiful. And it’s all God’s grace that’s doing this.”

He recognizes that God is always leading His people, even in times of difficulty.

“God’s creation is an awesome, wonderful thing!” he said. “Look around: Whatever is beautiful that we experience in this life, whatever is TRUE, whatever is GOOD — that’s God’s creation! It’s what God is calling us to respond to and embrace and share and develop.

“As members of Christ’s Body, the Church, we have that call — each one of us, no matter what our vocation is, we have that great call to embrace that great adventure.”

Steward and guardian

In lieu of gifts, people were encouraged to make contributions to Catholic Charities of Northern Missouri (cccnmo.diojeffcity.org) in Bishop Gaydos’s honor.

Bishop Rice pointed out that his fellow bishop’s 25th anniversary Mass was originally scheduled for Aug. 15, 2022, but had to be postponed for health reasons.

“It’s good that we’re here!” Bishop Rice proclaimed. “… Twenty-five years of service, attending to the things that pertain to God, preaching the word, in season and out of season — you have been a faithful steward, a guardian of the mysteries of Christ.

“You have fulfilled the hope of Holy Mother Church, that you be ‘a father and pastor, standing in the midst of your people as one who serves,’” he said.

Archbishop Carlson, who led the St. Louis archdiocese from 2009 until his retirement in 2020, became friends with Bishop Gaydos through their work with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and their collaboration as shepherds of neighboring dioceses.

Through that friendship, said the archbishop, Bishop Gaydos taught him much about “what it means to be a man of God.”

“I learned that you are a man of great wisdom, a man of great faith, a man of prayer,” he said. “I admire all of those things about you and in your life.”

The archbishop recalled learning a lot from the example Bishop Gaydos gave while recovering from heart surgery.

“As you suffered with the inconvenience, with the pain, you would turn everything over to our Lord, and you did not ask anything for yourself but only what God willed for you,” Archbishop Carlson stated.

“My main work”

Bishop McKnight presented Bishop Gaydos a framed Apostolic Blessing from Pope Francis, asking God for “an abundance of heavenly graces and the continued protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

Bishop Gaydos thanked everyone who helped bring the day’s festivities about.

Explaining why he chose the Votive Mass of Mary, Mother of the Church, for this occasion, he offered three quotes from Scripture: one from Jesus, two from the Blessed Mother.

The first, from Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38): “Let it be done to me according to your will.”

The second, from Jesus during his agony in the garden the night before his crucifixion (Matthew 26:36-39): “Not my will, but your will be done.”

Finally, from Mary at the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2:1-11): “Do whatever he tells you.”

“That pretty well sums up what happens when you’re baptized,” said Bishop Gaydos.

Namely, receiving the means and obligation to obey God, wherever he calls and leads.

“The fact of the matter is, you’re not going to find more freedom, you’re not going to find more joy, you’re not going to find more peace than you will from opening your heart and accepting God’s will and doing whatever he tells you,” said Bishop Gaydos.

He thanked everyone for continuing to pray for him.

“It’s my main work now: I’m praying for all of you!” he said.