Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Jesus Wants Followers, Not Admirers" – At Long Last, Fort Worth Has Its Hat

It's taken 43 years before the diocese of Fort Worth would see one of its priests ordained a bishop. And almost as if to make up for the wait, it happened at home today, as the native son Mike Olson formally took the reins of the still-growing 750,000-member North Texas juggernaut as its fourth bishop.

Swept into the sanctuary after his first blessings on a wave of cheers, and now the US' second-youngest diocesan head at 47, here's Olson's post-rite remarks....

On his appointment, the new bishop remarked of being informed that Papa Francesco "holds our diocese in great esteem as part of the New Evangelization" and realized its place as "part of a vital area of growth in the Church." Within five weeks, the point was loudly reinforced as Msgr Steve Berg – Fort Worth's administrator during the 16-month vacancy – was named bishop of Pueblo. No other Stateside diocese has seen a dual call-up of the kind in such rapid order in recent times, if ever. (From left, Berg and Olson are shown below at today's lunch with their shared mentor, Bishop Kevin Vann, whose seven-year tenure transformed the Metroplex fold before his 2012 transfer to an even bigger boomtown – Southern California's 1.3 million-member Orange church.)

At points both reverent and raucous, today's full-out jubilant scene – complete with Chandler-cameo – was a marked contrast from his predecessor's 2005 arrival. Named as coadjutor to an ailing Bishop Joseph Delaney, Vann – a pastor in his native Springfield, Illinois on his appointment – ended up becoming diocesan bishop immediately due to Delaney's death at 70 the day before the ordination, placing the event under a sudden cloud of shock and grief.

It had been decades since an American bishop was made to take on a diocese that large without any episcopal experience, but thankfully, the man fit the mission: described by turns as both an "Energizer bunny" and "social butterfly," the new bishop's habit of running 800-mile weekend circuits around the 28 county, 24,000 square-mile turf (and his knack for calling, texting – or as seen above, tweeting – every corner of the place when he wasn't there) had the effect of creating remarkably strong senses of mission, momentum and cohesion alike.

To be sure, happy as it is, growth has its challenges – while the number of seminarians have more than doubled over recent years, many of the diocese's pastors remain in the saddle well past retirement age to keep things moving, and building roughly a score of new, exponentially larger churches to meet the new demands requires no small amount of resources. Then again, it's no accident that Vann's first point-man is now his successor and can hit the ground running.

More than usual, Olson has to do just that; the new bishop's first order of business is no less than naming his own vicar-general in the wake of Berg's move to Southern Colorado, a posting twice Fort Worth's land-size.

Amid a stunning collision of demographic spikes that's seen Catholics become Texas' largest religious group, one final note. Given the twin "raid" on Fort Worth and now-Bishop Mike Sis' Monday arrival in San Angelo, within six weeks, the trio of figures who had been the Lone Star church's top prospects to move up have all now been given their nods. Looking across the wider scene, meanwhile, though the state's current diocesan docket is now filled, the occupants of two other sees – Victoria and Lubbock – reach the retirement age of 75 before late 2015 and a second auxiliary's still needed in Galveston-Houston, as is a replacement in Dallas for Bishop Mark Seitz, who was named to El Paso last May.

The recent hat-trick brings the number of Texas priests named bishops since 2008 to 12. So, then, who's next?

SVILUPPO: As today's principal consecrator – Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio – noted in a relaxed, lighthearted homily, despite Olson's family's move to Fort Worth in his teens and his priesthood there, his first roots were in Chicago.

Perhaps its no surprise, then, that given the rare design of the new bishop's miter – that is, in the word splayed across the front of it – several of the Windy City crowd have registered John Cody flashbacks....