Fr. Vann Johnston is currently Chancellor of the Knoxville, TN diocese and pastor of the large new Our Lady of Fatima Church in Alcoa, TN, a suburb to the south of Knoxville. Fr. Johnston's parish sponsors perpetual adoration of the Eucharistic Sacrament, and prays the rosary before daily Mass. The active parish with almost 1,200 Mass attendees every weekend also sponsors a twin parish in Thomonde, Haiti.
Bishop-elect Johnston is the oldest of four children and holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee. Before entering the seminary, he worked from 1982-85 for an engineering consulting firm in Houston. He was ordained a priest in 1990.
One of the most interesting facts about 48-year old Fr. Van Johnston is that three years ago, he and two other priests were nationally recognized for saving a father and his two children during a hiking vacation in Montana. He has recognized the benefits of fasting in the public media:
“Christians have to practice some form of self-denial; otherwise, it begins to affect the soul. We become prone to what’s often referred to as sloth and/or gluttony. We begin to live our lives to fulfill whatever urge or hunger that we have rather than loving God and loving our neighbor and serving them in love. Christ often teaches his disciples about the importance of detachment to the things of this world.”The interview of Fr. Johnston at KnoxNews on the subject of the old Latin Mass is even more interesting.
The current Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau has finally given in to many requests for the old Latin Mass and will now allow it to be offered in several churches, but my friends have reported that start dates have been amorphous. It is now known that the first old Latin Mass in the diocese will be celebrated at 4 p.m. Feb. 10 at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Springfield, MO.
The Rev. Vann Johnston, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, says the Latin-only controversy has not affected this area. He explains that Bishop Joseph Edward Kurtz has granted permission to two churches in the diocese to offer the Mass in Latin: "This came about after a petition was passed asking that Latin be offered, but the people who signed it indicated they did not believe it was the only true Mass. They respect and legitimize Mass done in English and Spanish, or whatever the language of the people; but they loved the poetry, the music, the tradition of the Latin, and they wanted it offered for those reasons."
The first church in the Knoxville Diocese to offer the Latin Mass was St. Therese in Cleveland, which began offering the traditional Mass in 2004 on the first and third Sundays of each month. Now, beginning Sunday, it will also be offered on the second and fourth Sundays at St. John Neumann in Farragut.
"I'm comfortable with that," says Johnston. "The people asking for it are faithful Catholics, and their motivations are not related to schismatic groups. The Latin Mass is very beautiful."
He agrees people today are longing for a sense of the holy, but that, if done reverently and in accordance with the mind of the church, the English and the Spanish Mass have the same spiritual components and value as the Latin.
"They, too, can and do feed people's hunger for the sacred," he says.