Sunday, April 14, 2024

Bishop Senior Offers Blessing during Portrait Unveiling for Late Lieutenant Governor

On an unseasonably warm March day, hundreds gathered in the Main Rotunda of the Pennsylvania Capitol building to honor the late Honorable Catherine Baker Knoll, the first female and Thirtieth Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, with the unveiling of her official portrait. A woman of deep Catholic faith, the late Lieutenant Governor died Nov. 12, 2008, following a four-month battle with cancer. She was 78.

On March 20, sixteen years after her death, family, friends, colleagues and supporters gathered to remember Knoll and pay her tribute, as her official portrait was unveiled. Bishop Timothy Senior offered the invocation and benediction for the late Lieutenant Governor during the moving ceremony.

“Loving God, we gather today to remember the witness and example of the Honorable Catherine Baker Knoll. We keep her memory alive today with the unveiling of this portrait, which is a reminder to us of her witness, her example, a life of faith and service. We are inspired by this witness as we call to mind her dedication to the service of our Commonwealth, the poor and the most vulnerable, to the sanctity of all human life, to the needs of those around us, to be an instrument of communion and fellowship, to promote the common good. May her example inspire us all to recommit ourselves to the ideals of our democracy, to the gift of this Commonwealth, to the vision of our founders. May we keep her memory alive in our own commitment to service, to mutual respect and to our love and devotion to peace. We ask your blessing upon this gathering, and in a special way today upon the Honorable Catherine Baker Knoll’s family, all those who have known and served with her and who revere her memory,” said the bishop.

Interspersed among musical selections, colleagues and family offered remarks, fondly remembering Knoll and the impact she made not just to them personally, but also to the people of the Commonwealth.

“I am mindful that I stand on the shoulders of Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, who was the first woman to be elected to the office I now have the high honor and the privilege to hold,” said current Lt. Gov. Austin Davis. “When she decided to run for office, she broke barriers and demonstrated perseverance throughout her entire career. She cared deeply about the people of Pennsylvania.”

Charles “Chuck” Knoll, Jr., one of Knoll’s sons, said, “She used to quote to me, ‘Work hard, play hard, laugh hard and try not to be too hardheaded.’ Another one of her famous statements was ‘FAMILY – the letters stand for Family Always Means I Love You.’ March is Women’s History Month, and it’s appropriate that CBK is the first woman honored in this way.”

“Mom’s been gone for some time now – it seems like a moment and it seems like an eternity – but there’s not a day gone by that we don’t smile thinking of her or wish she were still here,” said Albert Baker Knoll. “Mother was more at home in a church basement than behind a podium. No, Mother was not a politician, nor did she see herself as one. None of it was contrived; it was just Catherine.”

Before Bishop Senior offered the benediction, members of Trinity High School’s choir performed “O Love,” a moving piece reminding us that even through heartache and loss, the hopeful promise that those who “morn shall tearless be” remains.

Lieutenant Governor Knoll made her faith life part of her public life. Two months before her Jan. 21, 2003, inauguration as Pennsylvania’s first female lieutenant governor, she experienced the privilege of a private audience with Pope John Paul II during a pilgrimage to the Vatican.

In an interview with The Catholic Witness at that time, the soon-to-be lieutenant governor struggled to find the right words to express her encounter with the pope.

“The whole experience was just the most moving one anyone could have,” she said. “[Pope John Paul] held his hand over me to bless me. It was so beautiful, and I just wanted to cry. It’s something you never think in your lifetime that you’re ever going to experience.”

The Honorable Catherine Baker Knoll’s portrait was painted by the late renowned artist Nelson Shanks, also a Pennsylvania native.

(Photos by Rachel Bryson, The Catholic Witness.)

By Rachel Bryson, The Catholic Witness

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