Mass of Thanksgiving will honor Bishop John Leibrecht

Monday, March 3, 2008
The Most Reverend John J. Leibrecht, Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau attended Thursday's, March 23, 2006, Golden Jubilee of Priesthood Ordination in his honor at Saint Mary Cathedral in Cape Girardeau.

A Mass of Thanksgiving will be held Tuesday in honor of John J. Leibrecht, who is retiring as bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau this month. The Mass will be one of the last times Leibrecht visits Cape Girardeau as bishop.

On March 31, the Rev. James Vann Johnston Jr. will be installed as bishop of the diocese.

Leibrecht, 77, has served as bishop since 1984. Born in Overland, Mo., Leibrecht attended St. Louis Archdiocesan Latin School, St. Louis Preparatory Seminary, Kenrick Seminary and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Before being ordained as bishop, he worked in St. Louis in Catholic education.

"He has done an excellent job of leading us pastorally. He has been very visible to the people in the diocese. ... He has served us well because he's been in touch with what people need," said the Rev. Thomas Kiefer of St. Mary Cathedral, where the Mass will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The Diocese covers a large area -- nearly 26,000 square miles and 39 counties.

"To be a bishop in a diocese such as ours is not easy because of the vast area. I really give him credit. Driving around the diocese back and forth, it's a long way. But he has managed to be visible to his people," said the Rev. Patrick Nwokoye, Catholic campus minister for Southeast Missouri State University.

Nwokoye was ordained as a priest in 2002 by Leibrecht. "That's always going to have a special place in my heart," he said.

Sister Lucille Zerr, of St. Mary Cathedral, described Leibrecht as compassionate, understanding and a good listener.

"He's a person you feel at ease with all the time," she said.

She particularly enjoys the jokes he prints each week in a diocese paper.

Leibrecht will return March 17 for a Chrism Mass before Johnston is installed.

Johnston, 48, graduated with a degree in engineering and worked in the public sector in Texas before deciding to become a priest in 1985. He has served as an associate pastor at various churches throughout Tennessee as well as Chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville.

According to a release from the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Johnston received the Citizen's Award for Bravery in 2005 for "helping save a father and two of his children from plunging over a waterfall in Glacier National Park in Montana."

The Rev. David Hulshof of St. Vincent de Paul said he is looking forward to working with Johnston. Hulshof said Leibrecht will live in Springfield, Mo., when he retires but will continue to lead weekend Masses if someone is out sick or on vacation.

"It's a pretty service-oriented response. He doesn't have to do that," Hulshof said.

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