The Diocese, or ecclesiastical territory, is composed of 22,127 square miles [57,287 square kilometers], decidedly rural and embraces 38 counties in northeastern and central Missouri. It includes the urban areas of Columbia, Hannibal and the State Capital of Jefferson City. The Diocesan patroness is the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is located in region IX of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The well-organized system of rural parishes, particularly in Cole, Osage, Adair, Ralls, as well as Monroe Counties were the result of Jesuit missionary activity and primarily German, Italian and Irish immigrations. The oldest active parish in the Diocese is St. Stephen’s in Indian Creek (1833). The largest parish in the Diocese is Our Lady of Lourdes in Columbia (1958), 2,284 registered households. The newest parish in the Diocese is St. Andrew’s in Holts Summit (1975). The Shrine of our Lady of Sorrows and St. Martin Historic Church is located in Starkenburg (1888). The National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church, is located in Laurie (2003).
The Diocese of Jefferson City is a suffragan, or subordinate, of the Metropolitan See of St. Louis. Pope Pius XII established the Diocese on November 27, 1956 from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Diocese of Kansas City and the former Diocese of St. Joseph. The First Bishop was the Most Reverend Joseph M. Marling, CPPS, who established the foundations of the young Diocese. He served until his resignation in 1969. Bishop Marling served nationally as the President of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and was one of the founding members of the Missouri Catholic Conference in 1967. The Second Bishop was the Most Reverend Michael F. McAuliffe, S.T.D., who was ordained and installed in 1969. He served until his retirement in 1997. He further implemented the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Bishop McAuliffe served nationally as the Episcopal Moderator to the Catholic Scouts and as chairman for the Role of Women in the Church committee of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference.
The Third Bishop of Jefferson City, the Most Reverend John R. Gaydos, D.D., formerly a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, was ordained and installed in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in August 1997. Pope Francis accepted his resignation in November 2017. During his tenure, the diocese established Catholic Charities of Central and Northeastern Missouri and added a high school in the city of Columbia, Father Augustus Tolton Catholic High School. He served on many USCCB committees, including the USCCB Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry, which he chaired from Nov. 2000 to Nov. 2003, and the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
The current bishop, the Fourth Bishop of Jefferson City, is the Most Reverend W. Shawn McKnight, D.D., who was ordained and installed at the Cathedral on February 6, 2018. Bishop McKnight is a former priest of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas.
As of 2016, Catholics in the Diocese numbered 81,958 out of a population of 920,234. There are 95 parishes and 15 missions served by 66 active and retired diocesan priests, 19 priests from other dioceses and 6 religious priests as well as 84 permanent deacons. The Diocese currently has 7 seminarians. In 2016, the number of Catholics per priest ratio is one priest for 901 Catholics. One Christian Schools brother and 36 Sisters also work in the Diocese, which has three high schools, 37 elementary schools and two Catholic hospitals. Religious communities of men include the Precious Blood, Redemptrist and Dominican Fathers. Among the community of women religious are the Carmelite, Dominican, Incarnate Word, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Franciscan, Precious Blood and Mercy sisters.