Appointment of diocese’s only home-grown bishop a pleasant surprise to local Catholics

Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

January 8, 2014

Father Christopher Stainbrook still remembers the trepidation his parishioners felt when St. Timothy, an Anglican congregation, decided to join the Catholic Church as part of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

“People were unsure and feared leaving the familiar for the unknown,” the pastor explains.

Monsignor Michael F. Olson, who instructed parish members on the Sacrament of Confirmation, eased their anxiety.

“He made a whole room full of people feel relaxed and welcomed,” Fr. Stainbrook recalls. “My parishioners are going to be very happy that he’s their new bishop. He’s a teacher — a real people person.”

News that Pope Francis had chosen a priest ordained in the Diocese of Fort Worth to become its next bishop was greeted with surprise, joy, and overwhelming approval. As soon as the history-making announcement was released on Nov. 19, Patty Tucker’s phone chimed with text messages. Her brother, Bishop-elect Olson, is the first priest from the Diocese of Fort Worth to be named a bishop.

“I’m just so proud of what he’s accomplished with his life so far,” she told the North Texas Catholic. “Knowing that he will be the bishop here, where I live, is a little surreal right now.”

Born on June 29, 1966 in Park Ridge, Illinois, the bishop-elect is the eldest child and only son of Ronald and Janice Fetzer Olson. Two of his younger sisters, Patty Tucker and Mary Elizabeth Rogers, reside in Fort Worth. A third sister, Lizbeth Schweizer, lives in Maryland.

“We were surprised and happy for him. He’s always enjoyed being a priest,” Ronald Olson said as the family gathered inside St. Patrick Cathedral for a Nov. 19 Mass celebrated by the bishop-elect. “Whatever they asked him to do, he loved. So I know he will like being a bishop — especially of Fort Worth.”

A very young Michael Olson told his parents he wanted to be a priest while still in grammar school. He served as an altar boy for years but surprised his father when he chose to attend Quigley Preparatory Seminary in downtown Chicago for high school. After graduating in 1984, he began studying for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

When a corporate relocation moved his family to North Texas, the young seminarian transferred to the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. The late Bishop Joseph P. Delaney, the second bishop of the diocese, ordained him to the priesthood in June 1994.

Having a priest in the family is an honor, Tucker said.

“He’ll be a great bishop,” she said. “One of his best assets is a sense of humor, but he also believes strongly in his faith. That’s something he’s had from a young age. He set a good example for us then, and he still does, especially for my children.”

Michael Heaton, Holy Trinity Seminary director of advancement, said the bishop-elect’s presence and example will be missed by the 74 young men attending the seminary. Msgr. Olson has served as rector of the seminary since July 2008 and taught formation classes.

“The seminarians have a tremendous amount of respect for him. We’re losing a phenomenal person but everyone is very excited,” he said. “Everyone knew this day would come. We just didn’t think it would be this soon.”

Once the Vatican posted the 5 a.m. announcement, news of the rector’s appointment as bishop spread like wildfire, he explained. Many seminarians watched the bishop-elect’s press conference later that morning as it was live-streamed on their computers.

Heaton thinks one of the primary themes of the new bishop’s episcopacy will be vocations.

“Building up the priesthood in the diocese is something close to his heart,” he added. “It’s a passion of his.”

When he toured the campus of Our Mother of Mercy School in near Southeast Fort Worth following his celebration of the noon Mass at St. Patrick, the students greeted the bishop-elect with smiles and cheers. A banner, signed by the school’s 85 students, welcomed Bishop-Elect Olson and Monsignor Stephen J. Berg to the historically black Catholic school.

“We’re thrilled and feel very blessed,” said school principal Erin Vader who got to know Msgr. Olson when he was pastor of St. Peter the Apostle and she was principal of the parish school.

The Our Mother of Mercy principal feels the visit to the school was an indication of the bishop-elect’s commitment to children in general and Catholic education as a valuable tool of evangelization. The vast majority of youngsters attending Our Mother of Mercy are non-Catholic.

“I think he understood what we do involves the poor, the marginalized, and people not always recognized by society. What we do is a mission,” Vader explained. “He’s a thoughtful man and his decision to come to this school certainly made an impression on the children and staff.”

Father Christopher Stainbrook still remembers the trepidation his parishioners felt when St. Timothy, an Anglican congregation, decided to join the Catholic Church as part of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

Published (until 12/12/2031)