Monsignor Carl Kemme, a priest of Illinois’ Springfield diocese, was announced as the next Bishop of Wichita Thursday, and he said he accepted the assignment “relying solely on God’s grace and mercy.”
“As I will say many times and with utter sincerity, I was not seeking this appointment and in many ways was surprised to learn of it. Over the years, many have mentioned that someday I would be a bishop and I always said, if God is good, that won’t happen. Well, now I’m going to have to rethink and rephrase those words somehow,” Msgr. Kemme stated Feb. 20 at a news conference in Wichita.
“You know the old saying, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans … seemingly God has other plans. And here I am before you today.”
Msgr. Kemme has lived all his 53 years in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois; he was born in Effingham, 90 miles southeast of Springfield.
“I come to you from rather humble beginnings, a farm boy of Central Illinois, a member of a large family,” he told the people of Wichita. “My parents were hardworking farmers who couldn’t give us a lot of things, but gave us the best thing they could, our faith and membership in the Roman Catholic Church.”
“I come to you as one who wanted to be a priest, a parish priest from his earliest days.” Msgr. Kemme attended a high school seminary, and completed his studies for the priesthood at Kenrick Seminary, earning a bachelor of arts and a master of divinity.
“I do not come to you with any advanced theological or canonical degrees other than the ones you would normally receive in the course of seminary formation; I try as best I can to remain current in my ongoing formation through reading and study, but my desire was and always has been to be in the trenches and to help God’s people to find him there in their everyday lives,” he said.
He was ordained a priest in 1986, and served at several parishes, including Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Mount Zion, according to the Vatican Information Service. He has served the Springfield diocese as vicar general, chancellor, and, while it was vacant for a year, as administrator.
Bl. John Paul II named him a monsignor in 2002, and he is also a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. In addition, he is a chaplain for Courage, an apostolate serving persons with same-sex attraction.
Msgr. Kemme began his remarks at today’s news conference with gratitude to God for all his blessings, and thanking Pope Francis “for the confidence he has shown in me.”
He continued, “I know many other priests who are much more qualified than I am, more intelligent, more gifted in language, administrative skills, communication. Without a doubt, Pope Francis could have chosen a far more qualified candidate, at least from a human point of view. But in God’s mysterious plan, he has chosen me, which is a humbling and sobering experience.”
“I receive all of this though as a sign of how God often chooses the least qualified, the weak and yes even the sinful to accomplish his mission in the world.”
Msgr. Kemme expressed his sadness at leaving Springfield, but told the people of Wichita, “I believe very strongly that bishops are wedded to their dioceses and I want to pledge to you, vow to you, my love, my constant support, my work, my prayers and my pastoral concern.”
His greatest hope as bishop is to support his priests in their pastoral ministry, and to “call others to join us in the priesthood,” he said.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield stated that Pope Francis “has chosen wisely” in appointing Msgr. Kemme as Bishop of Wichita. “His parents, family, friends, fellow clergy and I have known for many years that Bishop-elect Kemme is a man of deep faith and love for the Lord and the people of God.”
Msgr. Kemme will be consecrated a bishop May 1. The Wichita diocese had been vacant since April 2013, when Bishop Jackels was transferred to the Dubuque archdiocese.
In other pontifical acts Feb. 20, Pope Francis appointed Msgr. Peter Baldachhino as an auxiliary bishop of the Miami archdiocese; Fr. Damiano Guzzetti as bishop of Moroto, in Uganda; and Msgr. Olivier Leborgne as bishop of Amiens, in France.