Rev. Francis Xavier Knott, 91, Jesuit priest

September 15, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Francis Xavier Knott, a Jesuit priest whose spirituality guided him to a life of service rather than working in his well-known Baltimore family's construction business, died of heart failure Friday in the Manresa Hall Infirmary of the Loyola Center in Philadelphia, where he was a resident. He was 91.

Father Knott was born into a wealthy Baltimore family known for its generosity to charitable and religious institutions. As one of six sons of Henry A. Knott, he could have followed his brothers into business. One brother, Henry J. Knott, became a multimillionaire in real estate developments and a philanthropist.

But Frank Knott wanted to be a priest.

"A couple of us took a crack at it but we never finished," his youngest brother, Joseph M. Knott of Baltimore, said of the priesthood.

The Rev. Bill Watters, a close friend of Father Knott, said his fellow Jesuit inherited his family's altruistic nature and "went into God's business, if you will."

"In the wonderful tradition of the Knott family, he had an openness to people, a welcoming way of making people feel valuable, loved and important," Father Watters said, noting that Father Knott always looked out for the less fortunate.

Echoing one of Father Knott's favorite sayings, Father Watters said, "It's one thing to give out of charity but another thing to give out of justice. We have a challenge to give back and be accountable for what God has given to us."

Father Knott grew up in the Ten Hills neighborhood. Father Watters said that as a young child, Father Knott fell seriously ill and his mother nursed him back to health - an experience that later helped him to empathize with others. "He could identify very readily with people who were suffering," he said.

Joseph Knott said that his brother loved sports - and that cost him immediate acceptance into the Society of Jesus order.

"In those days the Jesuits used to have a great number of applicants," he said. "They only took the most brilliant, and he was an athlete." Mr. Knott said his brother was "a three-letter man," who played football, basketball and baseball at Loyola High School, and had grades that were not high enough for acceptance into the order.

But that didn't stop his brother, Mr. Knott said. Frank Knott went to Loyola College for a year before applying to the Jesuit order in Canada, where he was accepted and stayed for a decade.

In 1942, he returned to Maryland for theological studies at Woodstock College and was ordained there in 1945.

Starting in 1946, Father Knott spent more than two decades teaching at his Jesuit-run alma maters - he taught at Loyola High School in Baltimore for seven years and, beginning in 1953, another 14 years at Loyola College, where his duties included teaching theology, directing the admissions department and counseling students.

Father Knott's brother, Henry J. Knott, who died in 1995, donated substantial sums to Loyola High School and Loyola College, which named its athletic field and a humanities center for Father Knott.

From 1970 to 1997, Father Knott had assignments as a pastor for parishes in Baltimore; Raleigh and Winston Salem, N.C.; Clearwater and Daytona Beach, Fla.; and Washington.

Joseph Knott said his brother liked to play golf and bridge, and loved reading. About a decade ago, he learned how to make candy from a niece and prodigiously produced peanut brittle and chocolates for the Jesuits and his friends and family.

Five years ago, he retired to the Loyola Center in Philadelphia.

"Wherever he went he was always engaged in spiritual direction for people," said Father Watters. "People would speak to him and ask him, `Where is God in the midst of pain, sorrow, anxiety, fears, deaths?' They would bring it to his doorstep."

A viewing will be held from 2 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. tomorrow at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, 740 N. Calvert St., followed by a Mass of Christian burial at 7:30 p.m.

Father Knott also is survived by another brother, John L. Knott of Baltimore, and numerous nieces and nephews.

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