December 1, 2023 | Archives, Editorials and Columns
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Bishop John J. McRaith is seen in this screen grab from his Dec. 15, 1982 episcopal ordination and installation as the third bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro, which was broadcast on cable television. ARCHIVES SCREENSHOT

Newly-digitized recording of Bishop McRaith’s installation steeped in 1980s holiday nostalgia


Around this time of year, it seems like we can hardly cram in any more celebrations before the year’s end. Multiple Thanksgivings give way to Christmas parties with friends, family, and coworkers. However, on a “cold and drizzly” December evening, 41 years ago, the Diocese of Owensboro was happy to add an additional celebration to the holiday season. Just 10 days before Christmas, our third bishop, the Most Reverend John J. McRaith, was installed. Luckily for us, that celebration was filmed and edited down to a very watchable piece of diocesan history. It should definitely be on your Christmas watchlist this season.

Presented by Cable 2 TV in Owensboro, the celebration is introduced by a Latin rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” After the narrator gives a short overview of the history of the diocese, she reveals that around 5,000 people are in attendance. Of them, one is an archbishop, 29 are bishops and 175 are priests. This celebration was clearly no small ordeal. I will not bore you with a play-by-play of what happens in the video, as I highly recommend that you view it yourself. However, I will remark on some of my takeaways.

The video captures the true spirit of our diocese so well. Our diocese has never been lauded as affluent. Most of our ancestors worked on a farm or in a mine. We have, however, been lauded for our warmth and hospitality. With the laughter, cheering, smiles and joyous voices, there is no doubt Bishop McRaith understood that we were happy to help make Kentucky his home.

If you want to feel some real nostalgia, this video has what you need. The low-fidelity audio and dull video quality transport you to when VHS and cable TV were the peak of entertainment. The inability of the low-definition cameras to register the lights in the Owensboro Sportscenter causes every hanging bulb to blaze, each appearing as an individual star of Bethlehem. The dress, the hair, the aesthetic… this video transports you to evening Mass in the 80s and early 90s before going to a Christmas Eve party at your grandparents’.

Perhaps the most powerful moment in the video is due to retrospect. The presentation of the gifts was administered by members of Bishop McRaith’s family. The narrator mentions that his father is presenting in a wheelchair because he has been battling sickness. Little did anyone watching know that the bishop’s father would pass away the next December. It is a truly powerful moment.

If you are interested in viewing this video, it will be accessible on the Diocese of Owensboro’s YouTube channel under the Archives playlist, which can be found embedded below and also at the Diocese of Owensboro’s YouTube page ( Not to leave out the two bishops that preceded Bishop McRaith, Bishops Francis Cotton and Henry Soenneker, a historic event of them will also be digitized and made available soon. Enjoy, and have a merry Christmas!

Edward Wilson is the director of the Diocese of Owensboro’s Archives and the Archives of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. Comments and questions may be sent to [email protected].

Originally printed in the December 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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