Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In A First, Fort Worth Holds Its Own – Native Son Olson Named Metroplex Bishop

(Updated below with added context and full press conference video.)

Over recent years, the booming church in the North Texas Metroplex has seen some rather extraordinary things: erupting parishes, spiking numbers of seminarians, a balance of vitality in diversity – and, of course, the memorable six-year run of the Brothers Kevin....

But this might just take the cake.

Finally moving on the smaller of the area's two dioceses – one nearly doubled in size over the last decade – after a 14-month vacancy, at Roman Noon this Tuesday the Pope named Msgr Michael Olson, 47, currently rector of Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, as bishop of Fort Worth, his home diocese, where he served as vicar-general from 2006 until his 2008 appointment to lead the nearby formation house just over the Dallas border.

With the move, Olson – born in Chicago but ordained for Fort Worth in 1994 – becomes the first priest of the diocese ever elevated to the episcopacy, signifying an important passage for the North Texas church into the hands of homegrown leadership. For the Irving seminary, meanwhile – its enrollment more than tripled over the last decade – the bishop-elect becomes the second straight rector to receive a diocese, following the now-Bishop Michael Duca of Shreveport, and the third overall; in its first "golden age" of the early 1980s, HTS was led by the future Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe.

A Basselin scholar during his philosophy days at the Catholic University of America in Washington, Olson went on to earn a doctorate in moral theology with a specialty in bioethics, spending four years along the way teaching at the health care ethics center of the Jesuit-run St Louis University. After a separate five-year run as a professor and formator at East Texas' major seminary – St Mary's in Houston – the appointee returned home to take up double-duty as a pastor and chief deputy to Bishop Kevin Vann, whose seven years at the diocese's helm saw the Fort Worth church take flight, its population growing from 400,000 on his 2005 arrival to some 750,000 today, with Hispanics comprising a growing majority. (Like Vann, Olson comes speaking the language.)

Shown above with his now-successor, Vann was transferred in September 2012 to Southern California's 1.3 million-member Orange church, where he's inherited one of American Catholicism's dream projects – the acquisition of the landmark Crystal Cathedral and its years-long transition into the diocese's new seat. Slated to be closed for an extensive renovation in early December, the future Christ Cathedral is slated to see its dedication for Catholic worship sometime in late 2015 or early 2016.

The Fort Worth diocese comprises 28 counties of North-Central Texas. With the usual Appointment Day presser slated for a 10am Central start (livestream included), Olson's ordination has already been announced for January 29, 2014 in the see-city's convention center.

In a statement this morning, the appointee said that "he is very humbled and deeply moved by Pope Francis’ appointment of me to serve as the bishop of Fort Worth. In a very special way, I am delighted to return home to the diocese of Fort Worth to serve the priests, deacons, religious, and all of the faithful as their bishop."

As the diocese noted, by a margin of five months, the bishop-elect now becomes the second-youngest head of a US diocese following Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces.

SVILUPPO: Amid cheering, español and a Francis-esque priority for "those who would fall through the margins of society," here's fullvid of Olson's homecoming presser:

With the bishop-elect already slated to keynote Sunday's diocesan closing of the global church's 13-month Year of Faith, two additional bits of context on this morning's move.

First, it is a sign of no small confidence in Olson that he's been given an extraordinarily large diocese – for purposes of context, a place with as many Catholics as Pittsburgh or Hartford, and far more than, say, San Francisco, Louisville or Denver – without any episcopal experience to date. It's the second time this year a simple priest has been so elevated, and even Michael Barber SJ's ascent to Oakland in May involved a diocese with roughly a third less faithful than today's nominee returns to in Fort Worth.

While Vann was thrust into a similar surreal reality on his ordination, it wasn't supposed to be that way; a parish priest in Springfield, Illinois when the call came in, the now-prior bishop had been named as coadjutor, but came immediately into the reins as the ailing Bishop Joseph Delaney died the day before the rites took place. Of course, Olson's native knowledge of the turf will help the transition... even for the
 leg-up, however, he'll still have to learn how to be a bishop, to boot.

And lastly, it's notable that the Fort Worth nod came earlier than a resolution to the longest-standing vacancy on these shores: Maine's statewide diocese of Portland, which opened up four months before Vann's SoCal transfer upon Bishop Richard Malone's transfer to Buffalo. (Malone's been doubling up as apostolic administrator of his former charge ever since.)

While an uptick of chatter before the summer tipped a Portland appointment in late June or July – with a name attached to it – the cited prospect seems to have petered out, and as things stand, the outcome remains up for grabs.

With this morning's move, nine Stateside Latin-church sees remain vacant, with another six – led by the nation's third-largest diocese, Chicago – awaiting successors to ordinaries serving past the retirement age.

As the all-important Windy City handover goes, no movement is expected at least until after Cardinal Francis George marks his golden jubilee as a priest on 18 December, and all told, likely not until well in the New Year.