The Rev. John Stowe made his first appearance as bishop-elect of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington on Thursday, saying that "worship and service" would be his priorities, as they have been in his previous posts.
Stowe, who speaks fluent Spanish and gave some of his remarks in that language, also said he looked forward to working with Spanish-speaking residents of the diocese.
"I am inspired by the ever-more-visible presence of our Hispanic brothers and sisters in this diocese," he said. "As is the case throughout the entire nation ... they are a life-giving presence in the American church."
Stowe, introduced at a brief news conference at the Catholic Center in Lexington, wore the simple robes of a Franciscan priest, an order he entered shortly after high school. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and bishops Roger Foys of Covington and William Francis Medley of Owensboro were there to greet him.
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The bishop-elect comes to Lexington from Carey, Ohio, where he has been pastor and rector of the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation.
He will be installed as bishop of Lexington on May 5.
Stowe, 48, was appointed by Pope Francis on Thursday to become the third bishop of the 27-year-old Lexington diocese, which has almost 46,500 members in 50 Central and Eastern Kentucky counties. The diocese made the announcement in a news release moments after the pope completed the appointment in Rome.
Stowe succeeds Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, who left Lexington last year to become bishop of the diocese in Harrisburg, Pa. Stowe said he and Gainer spoke by phone Thursday morning.
The College of Cardinals in Rome signals the selection of new popes by releasing white smoke. When Stowe stepped to the microphone Thursday morning, he quipped that he thought "maybe they would have blue smoke here" to announce his selection in the hometown of the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
"I know I will have to learn a lot about horses and UK basketball," he added. "I know a thing or two about bourbon."
Stowe noted that Catholics make up only about 3 percent of the total population in the counties covered by the diocese. He also pointed out that many in the Eastern Kentucky portion of the diocese struggle with poverty.
But he said he sees those facts as opportunities.
"What a great context for putting the Gospel into practice," he said. "Pope Francis has stated repeatedly that he wants a poor church for the poor. We certainly have the ingredients for that church right here."
Stowe was born in 1966 in Lorain, Ohio, and attended Catholic schools there that often were staffed by Conventual Franciscans. He joined the formation program for the Conventual Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Consolation at St. Bonaventure Friary in St. Louis after attending community college for a year.
He took vows in 1992 in the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, popularly known as the Franciscans. "Conventual" denotes that members of the order live in the community.
The order stresses a life of few material possessions, simplicity, teaching and charity.
Stowe spent a number of years working in El Paso, Texas, before moving to Our Lady of Consolation in 2010.
"In places where I've served I've tried to focus on worship and service," he said Thursday in describing his priorities in his new post. "The details will come after lots of listening, seeing and experiencing what is already going on here."
Stowe got a particularly enthusiastic welcome from Alejandro Capote, Kentucky-Tennessee regional coordinator for Students for Life, a pro-life organization.
"I think he's going to teach us how to be better Christians, how to live better lives with what we have," Capote said. "I'm humbled that someone like Pope Francis, who has wanted a poor church, is saying 'I am sending you a friar to be your bishop.'
"That's a testament to our growing community of immigrants in Lexington, to see someone who is bilingual. We need a spiritual awakening in this diocese."