Community joins Bishop Olson to celebrate 25 years of priesthood
Check out more photos of Bishop Olson's anniversary Mass
KELLER — It’s been five years since Pope Francis appointed him bishop. But for many who came to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish July 9 for a celebratory Mass marking his ordination to the priesthood 25 years ago, Bishop Michael F. Olson is still referred to simply and affectionately as Father Michael.
“We’ve known him a long time — at least 20 years,” said Mary Jo Pleva, remembering when the young priest, assigned to St. Michael Parish in Bedford, worked closely with her daughter’s post-confirmation group. “He would come to our house and was so open and welcoming with the students. It absolutely left an impression.”
The former pastor presided over the marriage of one of Pleva’s granddaughters and baptized other grandchildren.
“He’s a family friend. Even though he’s a bishop, we still call him Fr. Michael,” David Pleva added. “That’s because we feel such a close personal connection.”
The Jubilee Mass brought together parishioners from across the diocese as well as relatives and close friends of Bishop Olson, who was ordained a priest by the late Bishop Joseph P. Delaney on June 3, 1994 in St. Patrick Cathedral. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and his wife, Cecilia, were among the guests invited to the anniversary liturgy. A convert to Catholicism, the governor asked Bishop Olson to give the inaugural benediction at his swearing-in ceremony in 2015 and a blessing at his inauguration in 2019.
“I knew the bishop before he was a priest and he’s a very close friend of mine,” Gov. Abbott told the North Texas Catholic. “He’s been a part of so many celebratory Masses in my life and I wanted to be here to celebrate this monumental day for him.”
The governor called Bishop Olson a terrific leader in the Church and a longtime friend of both he and his wife. Cecilia Abbott, a former Catholic school principal, met the bishop when both were students at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.
“We’re proud to be here today,” he added.
The outpouring of affection and support for Bishop Olson didn’t surprise family members who recalled the weeklong gathering of relatives and friends that preceded his ordination in 1994. Some of those people returned for the Jubilee Mass.
“I’m older but still very proud,” quipped the bishop’s father, Ronald Olson, who overcame recent health issues to attend the Mass with daughters, Patti Tucker and Mitzi Rogers. A third daughter, Liz Schweizer, was unable to attend because of work obligations. Janice Olson, the bishop’s mother, passed away in 2015.
Rogers admits 25 years went by quickly — hastened, in part, by an unexpected announcement. On November 19, 2013, Pope Francis named her then 47-year-old brother as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth. He was the first priest ordained in the diocese to become a bishop and the second youngest man to lead a diocese in the U.S.
Bishop Olson now shepherds one of the fastest growing populations of Catholics in the country.
“It’s a difficult job and we pray for him always,” Rogers said.
Born in Park Ridge, Illinois, the bishop began his seminary studies for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1984 but transferred to the Diocese of Fort Worth after his parents moved here during a corporate relocation.
He began his priestly ministry as parochial vicar assigned to St. Michael in Bedford and later became pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Parish while serving as Vicar General for the diocese. Prior to becoming bishop, the experienced formation advisor, medical ethicist, and diocesan administrator was honored with the title “monsignor” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
After his ordination to the episcopacy in 2015, Bishop Olson established a sense of community in the diocese, according to Marlon De La Torre. The director of Evangelization and Catechesis describes the leader of North Texas Catholics as witty, highly intelligent, and personable.
“He’s so open and readily available to people whether through phone, Twitter, or text,” he explained.
First and foremost, Bishop Olson is a servant priest.
“He’ll go out to the fringes of the diocese to celebrate Mass, talk to people, or teach,” De La Torre continued. “And he doesn’t do it for affirmation or acceptance. He does it to serve.”
Hosting the National V Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry in 2018 is one of the highlights of the bishop’s brief tenure. The four-day bilingual summit, organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the diocese, brought together 3,000 Hispanic leaders and delegates from across the U.S. to discuss strengthening the Hispanic/Latino presence in the Church.
“He embraced the opportunity to evangelize Hispanics and received accolades from the Holy See, Pope Francis, and the USCCB for how well it went,” De La Torre noted. “For me, as a first generation Mexican-American, that spoke volumes.”
Bishop Olson is also known as a strong advocate for Catholic education, vocations, and respect life issues. Pat Pelletier co-founded the Mother and Unborn Baby Center with her late husband, Chuck, and met the bishop in 1989 when he was a seminarian.
“We’ve maintained our friendship through all his name changes — from Michael to deacon, father, monsignor, and bishop. Chuck called him ‘warrior’ which was the highest compliment he could give,” she recalled.
The longtime pro-life worker considers the bishop a strong leader and compassionate friend who accompanied the family through her husband’s final illness.
“We are blessed by his faithfulness to his vocation and willingness to carry the cross God handed him,” Pelletier added.
Noting that many of the people who filled the pews inside the Keller church had been baptized, confirmed, married, anointed, or ordained by him, Bishop Olson said the occasion filled his heart with joy and thanksgiving for two reasons. Celebrating Mass is a fitting way to thank God for the gift of His Son and the 25 years of priestly ministry granted to him by Christ.
“My 25 years of priestly life have involved many struggles and many graces offered by God within these struggles. Priesthood is not for the faint of heart,” he said. “As priests we have nothing to boast in but our weakness. It is in that weakness that we receive the grace of not forgetting our vocation is a gift to live at the hand of God.”
Concluding his homily, Bishop Olson asked the more than 60 priests in attendance to join him in thanking God for their shared vocation and the unearned grace offered to them.
“I renew my efforts with each and all of you in gratefully responding to this grace — the grace that is wrapped in the struggle with the truth, so clearly needed today in the darkness of our culture.”
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner Eve Roussin came to the silver Jubilee Mass to show appreciation for Bishop Olson’s ministry. She likes his straightforwardness.
The retiree, who knits baby hats for respect life ministries, prays for the bishop every day.
“I think under his leadership, we are prospering as a parish and diocese,” she added.
Members of the Donahue clan arrived at the church with two of the celebration’s youngest guests — newborn twins Tommy and Peggy.
“Bishop Olson was our parish priest at St. Peter. We love everything he does and everything he stands for,” enthused Mary Angela Donahue.
Several children and grandchildren in the large Irish family are named for the person they think of as Fr. Michael.
“They have Michael or Olson as a middle name,” she continued. “That’s how highly we think of him.