Pope Francis has designated Father William Gahagan, who has served in the Diocese of Knoxville since its inception in 1988, with the title of monsignor.
The papal honor comes at the recommendation of Bishop Richard F. Stika who made the announcement at a meeting of diocesan priests on May 23.
“A lot of the younger priests don’t know this, but Father Gahagan is from Maine, and he has been a chaplain in hospitals, he’s been in (our) high schools, he has been a dean, he has been a very successful pastor, and not to put any of you guys down, but I haven’t met a priest who has greater love for his brother priests than Father Gahagan,” Bishop Stika said.
Bishop Stika noted Father Gahagan’s recent attempts to retire.
“Ya know, he’s been retired and not retired, off and on, right? I have a job for you. I was wondering if you would be a chaplain again, because His Holiness has named you a monsignor.”
The large meeting room at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City erupted into applause, with the new monsignor receiving a standing ovation.
From this moment on (Monsignor Gahagan) is now a member of the papal household, a chaplain of His Holiness, and he doesn’t get a pay raise at all,” Bishop Stika joked.
In comments following the announcement, Monsignor Gahagan said he wanted to remember his parents and growing up in Lewiston, Maine.
“I share this expression from the Holy Father and Bishop Stika. I just hope that I can continue live with you, love with you, serve with you, and let’s always remember the strength and the power of God’s presence.. love overcomes all things,” Monsignor Gahagan said.
Monsignor Gahagan was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Nashville in 1970. He was incardinated into the new Diocese of Knoxville on September 8, 1988.
Monsignor Gahagan is only the fifth priest in the diocese to currently carry the honorific title of monsignor. He joins Monsignor Patrick Garrity, Monsignor Bob Hofstetter, Monsignor Al Humbrecht, and Monsignor Xavier Mankel. Prior to his elevation as leader of the Diocese of Knoxville, Bishop Stika was a monsignor in his home archdiocese of St. Louis. Monsignor Philip Thoni, who passed away in 2015, served the Catholic Church and the Diocese of Knoxville for more than 60 years.
(Article updated to include the service of Monsignor Philip Thoni)