‘I am a Person of Hope’ — Bishop Olson reflects on his love of serving as a priest

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

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Bishop Michael Olson greets well-wishers outside St. Patrick Cathedral after a Sept. 5, 2010 Vespers service in which he was invested as a Chaplain of His Holiness, receiving the title “Monsignor.” (Photo by Juan Guajardo / NTC Archives)

In preparing for his ordination and installation as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 in the Fort Worth Convention Center, Bishop Michael F. Olson wanted the people of the local Church to understand this simple fact about his life: He loves being a priest.

“I love the Lord very much and I’m grateful for my vocation,” the 47-year-old Bishop said during an interview with the North Texas Catholic. “I pray for the people in the diocese, and I need their prayers for me. I have a great desire to serve and help them know the Lord more.”

To ready himself spiritually to meet the challenges of leading the fast-growing, 28-county diocese, the soon-to-be bishop spent time at a retreat praying and reflecting on the task ahead.

“I’ve been praying and looking at the readings and questions I will answer during the ordination as well as reflecting on Pope Francis’ exhortation Evangelii Gaudium on evangelization,” he explains.

The document, which translated into English means “The Joy of the Gospel,” provides insight into the responsibilities of a bishop and how the mission to evangelize in the modern world impacts the life of the Church.

Along with spiritual preparation, there are practical matters to address. The bishop is moving from his residence at the Irving-based Holy Trinity Seminary, where he served as rector since July 2008, to the rectory at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth. He’s also been reading and responding to congratulatory letters that have flooded his office since Pope Francis named him the next bishop of Fort Worth on Nov. 19. Bishop Olson is the first priest ordained for the diocese to become a bishop, and many former parishioners have sent notes expressing encouragement and support.

One letter was particularly meaningful. It came from a former parishioner with family troubles who received counseling, many years ago, from a newly-ordained Father Olson.

“She shared with me that things had resolved very well, and she was grateful for the ministry she received,” he said. “That really edified me and made me grateful again for the gift of priesthood that allowed me to be a useful instrument for the hand of God.”

Bishop Olson’s brief journey to the episcopacy has included some interesting opportunities in education and ministry.

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While studying at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., seminarian Michael Olson had the opportunity to meet Mother Teresa on Dec. 8, 1987, while serving at the Missionaries of Charity’s Gift of Peace House. (Photo courtesy of Bishop Olson)

After his ordination to the priesthood on June 3, 1994 in St. Patrick Cathedral, he was assigned as the parochial vicar — an associate pastor — of St. Michael Church in Bedford. The young priest left that post in 1997 to begin doctoral studies at Saint Louis University Center for Health Care Ethics, graduating in 2001. From July 2001 to May 2006, he served as a formation advisor at St. Mary Seminary in Houston then returned to Fort Worth to become pastor at St. Peter the Apostle Church in June 2006. While pastor, then-Fort Worth Bishop Kevin Vann appointed him vicar general of the diocese — an office he held until becoming the rector at Holy Trinity Seminary.

Bishop Vann, who now leads the Diocese of Orange, California, is a co-consecrating bishop for the ordination ceremony, along with Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston. Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio is performing the ordination rites as the consecrating bishop.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and other Texas bishops are attending the afternoon liturgy along with thousands of Catholics from across the diocese.

A crozier, miter, and ring, which are presented to a new bishop at his ordination, are being blessed at an invitation-only Vespers service Jan. 28 inside St. Patrick Cathedral.

Former teachers, classmates, and family members — many from the Chicago area — are travelling to Fort Worth for the ordination. The bishop grew up in Des Plaines, Illinois, as the second oldest child and only son of Ronald and Janice Olson. He has three younger sisters, Patty Tucker and Mary Elizabeth Rogers of Fort Worth, and Lizbeth Schweizer of Maryland. An older sister, Kimberly Ann, passed away at three-and-a-half, when Michael was one.  The Olsons moved to Fort Worth from Illinois in the mid-1980s when GTE relocated its corporate offices here. Their son, who began his seminary studies in the Archdiocese of Chicago, later transferred to the Diocese of Fort Worth to be closer to his family. As a seminarian, the bishop was the recipient of the Basselin Scholarship at the Catholic University of America where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in philosophy in 1988 and 1989.

“My parents have always been very supportive of my vocation to be a priest from the time I was young until now,” the bishop continued. “They are happy for this next chapter in my life.”

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Then-Father Michael Olson celebrates his first Mass in June 1994 at St. Michael Parish in Bedford. (Photo courtesy of Bishop Olson)

He credits them for setting the example of faith, honesty, and hard work — virtues later reinforced by others outside the home. His religious and lay high school teachers stressed the importance of basic ethics and Christian values. The priests at his boyhood parish, St. Mary in Des Plaines, helped him discern his vocation.

But, throughout his priesthood, he’s drawn particular inspiration from Pope John XXIII — the history-making pontiff who convened the Second Vatican Council. Considered an impressive figure in the life of the Church, Bishop Olson said the soon-to-be canonized pope set the standard for pastors.

“He was known for his wisdom, sense of joy, and great love for people of all types,” the bishop explained. “He had the ability to focus on the essentials of the Gospel and showed that sometimes patience is the best approach to a particular pastoral challenge.”

Closer to home, the bishop cites Bishop Vann and Father Jim O’Toole as role models he tries to emulate. When he was first ordained, a young Father Olson worked as associate pastor under Fr. O’Toole at St. Michael and the pair remain friends.

“I worked closely with Bishop Vann and learned a lot from him in regard to the pastoral care of priests,” he explained. “Those are the people who influenced me,” he said, adding he looked forward to them attending his ordination and installation.

As he prepares to assume new responsibilities, Bishop Olson has set long-term goals for the diocese that come under the banner of evangelization.

“I really want people to articulate how their Catholic faith impacts their daily lives and be able to share that with family, strangers, and co-workers,” he points outs. “We need to understand the importance of sharing that faith. I think the more we give the Gospel away, the more we receive it.”

The next bishop of Fort Worth hopes a renewed spirit of evangelization leads to the establishment of future parishes and a healthier, vibrant Eucharistic spirituality among all people. To reach teens, college students, and young adults, he intends to explore the use of social media “because that’s where the young people are.”

A product of Catholic education, the bishop is a strong advocate of Catholic schools and considers them essential tools of evangelization. He is a graduate of St. Mary Catholic Elementary School in Des Plaines, Illinois, Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago, and St. Mary Seminary in Houston.

“I was very proud to be pastor at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic School,” he says, referring to one of his parish assignments. “Catholic schools are vital to the Church’s future. They are critical to our goal of spreading the Gospel, knowing our faith, and sharing the faith.”

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A young Michael Olson places his hands inside of the hands of Bishop James Tamayo, then auxiliary bishop of Galveston-Houston, when he was ordained to the diaconate Nov. 6, 1993, at St. Theresa Church in Houston. (Photo courtesy of Bishop Michael Olson)

Bishop Olson, who earned a doctorate in moral theology at Academia Alfonsiana in Rome, says sharing the Catholic faith and the Gospel of Jesus must always include care of the poor, the unborn, immigrants, and those who are persecuted.

“We must work for religious freedom of all people, basic rights — especially the right to life — and a just society that uses resources for the common good,” he adds.

After his ordination, the new bishop plans to visit every parish, school, university, and campus ministry site in the diocese in an effort to “be present to the whole Church and all cultures that make up our Church.”

He’s looking forward to his new role as shepherd of the Diocese of Fort Worth with optimism and clarity.

“I am a person of hope,” he asserts. “I’m not given to fear. Fear is useless. I think what’s needed is faith, trust, and, most especially, charity.”

The bishop believes people waste too much time on panic and crisis instead of reaching for the better alternative.

“There is no fear that can’t be met with faith, hope, and love. That’s what we learn from the Gospel.”

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Bp-Olson-as-boy-BUTTON.jpgThanksgiving 2013 was a little more special for Ronald and Janice Olson. A week before friends and family gathered to celebrate the holiday, their son, Michael, was chosen by Pope Francis to become the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth. “Relatives came from Chicago and Santa Fe, and we had a big family Thanksgiving,” recalls Mitzi Rogers, one of the Olsons’ four children. “We celebrated this opportunity for Michael. Everyone is on cloud nine for him.”

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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.

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Bp-Olson-grtg-as-Msgr-BUTTON.jpgIn preparing for his ordination and installation as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 in the Fort Worth Convention Center, Bishop Michael F. Olson wanted the people of the local Church to understand this simple fact about his life: He loves being a priest. “I love the Lord very much and I’m grateful for my vocation,” the 47-year-old Bishop said during an interview with the North Texas Catholic. “I pray for the people in the diocese, and I need their prayers for me. I have a great desire to serve and help them know the Lord more.”

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