Bishop Olson leaves a legacy at Holy Trinity Seminary

By Tony Gutiérrez

Associate Editor


Monsignor Olson poses with seminarians from the 2013-14 academic year in front of the seminary. (Photo courtesy of Holy Trinity Seminary)

Finding Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving used to be a chore. But now thanks to a new sign on Vince Hagan Drive visible from the feeder road for Highway 114, visitors no longer get lost. That sign built in October 2013 is an example not only of the physical changes, but of the welcoming nature of the seminary that are part of the legacy being left by Bishop Michael Olson. Olson served as rector at Holy Trinity from 2008 until his recent appointment as the fourth bishop of Fort Worth.

“He has built on the work of his predecessor, Bishop Michael Duca of Shreveport, by dramatically improving the physical structure of the seminary and the quality of formation received by the seminarians,” said Michael Heaton, the seminary’s director of advancement, noting that enrollment has nearly tripled during his tenure. “Bishops around the country are talking about Holy Trinity Seminary now and considering sending their guys here. We have 13 different dioceses right now from all across the country sending their guys here because they see the quality of the young men graduating from this place.”

The four pillars of priestly formation that are at the core of Holy Trinity Seminary are human, intellectual, pastoral, and spiritual formation. Building on the work of his predecessors, Bishop Olson has kept these pillars in mind during his tenure.

“His focus is on human formation — on guiding men in their relationships with themselves, with the Church, and with their brothers, because that’s the bedrock upon which everything else can be built,” said Fort Worth seminarian Eugene Flynn from Bl. John Paul II Parish in Denton. “You can’t really do much in terms of intellectual formation, or spiritual formation, or pastoral formation, if the capacity to relate as a human being isn’t there.”

That emphasis on human formation can be seen walking through the seminary. Noticing that seminarians were spending money on gym memberships, and recognizing the need to be healthy, Bishop Olson set aside two rooms for fitness, Heaton said. Heaton also pointed out that Bishop Olson ensured the seminary cafeteria served healthy foods. Other improvements in the seminary include a recreation room with donated games and tables to allow the seminarians the opportunity to unwind.

That’s not to say that Bishop Olson neglected the other aspects of formation. In terms of intellectual formation, he increased the size of the library, and introduced a computer lab and a media room for seminarians to work on class projects and watch videos related to their classes.


Msgr. Olson stands with the class of 2013 inside the Holy Trinity Seminary chapel on April 23, 2013. The class includes graduating seniors as well as those who have completed their second year of pre-theology. (Photo courtesy of Holy Trinity Seminary)

As rector, he hired Dr. Bill Brownsberger, who was then serving as an associate professor of theology at the University of Dallas, to serve as the seminary’s director of intellectual formation.

“He understands the process of intellectual formation for future priests,” said Brownsberger, who is now the academic dean for Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri. “I think he encourages the seminarians to see intellectual formation as not just optional, but something central to their formation as future priests.”

Brownsberger said that although the intellectual formation of the seminarians is done primarily through the University of Dallas, his role was to serve as a bridge between both institutions. In addition to teaching at the university, Bishop Olson and Brownsberger implemented an “in-house course” exclusively for seminarians, that includes a capstone-style seminar in the fall, followed by a 20 to 30 page thesis in the spring to round out the end of the seminarians’ career at Holy Trinity.

“He really engaged Holy Trinity Seminary as a project — he thought about what he could do to make it a better place, and I suspect he’ll do the same for Fort Worth,” Brownsberger said, reflecting on how Bishop Olson will act as a bishop. “He’s not the kind of person who sits back and lets things happen around him. He makes things happen.”

Heaton said that in spiritual formation, Bishop Olson has developed relationships with priests and bishops across the country in order to bring several high quality priests to serve as spiritual and formation directors for the seminary. Heaton added that that’s a difficult task because priests need permission from their bishops or superiors to serve in this capacity instead of in a parish or other ministry.

During the week, there is a daily celebration of the Eucharist, and the seminarians pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer as a community. Additionally, Mass and Morning and Evening Prayer are celebrated in Spanish once a week.


Father Michael Olson poses with Bishop Kevin Vann (left) and Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas (center) shortly after his installation as rector of Holy Trinity Seminary on Sept. 12, 2008. (Photo courtesy of Holy Trinity Seminary)

“One of the things I particularly like about the formation is that they’re very clear with their expectations, and they allow us, as [Bishop Olson] says, to be agents of our own formation,” said Fort Worth seminarian Jason Allan from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller. “On the weekends, it’s up to us to find the time to pray morning and evening prayer. That’s especially helpful because for the most part in our priestly ministry, it’s us on our own in a parish somewhere, and there it’s definitely up to you to establish your prayer life.”

In addition to serving in pastoral ministry assignments, the seminarians have also looked to the example of Bishop Olson for their pastoral formation. Flynn noted how Bishop Olson emphasized the need for the seminary to be a community, not simply a dormitory.

“He’s really good at bringing the community together and addressing the needs as soon as they need to be met,” he said. “For an example, this year, we have a much more diverse student population than we have in the past. There’s a much stronger Anglo/Latino split, [but] at the beginning of the year, he was very clear about how we’re a single house, a single community — that’s just the way it is.”

Flynn also recalled how when his mother passed away in the fall semester, it was the future bishop who broke the news to him in a pastoral manner.

“He let me know that my mom passed away, and I didn’t really know how to react to that, but he was wonderful at just being present and responding to my needs,” Flynn said. He went on to say that losing your mother is difficult, particularly when it’s unexpected. “I’m sure that his years as a priest helped him in being able to help me at that time. Since then he’s been particularly diligent in asking to see how I’ve been doing.”

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Bp-Olson-as-HTS-rector-Button.jpgFinding Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving used to be a chore. But now thanks to a new sign on Vince Hagan Drive visible from the feeder road for Highway 114, visitors no longer get lost. That sign built in October 2013 is an example not only of the physical changes, but of the welcoming nature of the seminary that are part of the legacy being left by Bishop Michael Olson. Olson served as rector at Holy Trinity from 2008 until his recent appointment as the fourth bishop of Fort Worth.