Speaking to more than 400 worshipers Tuesday afternoon at St. Patrick Cathedral, Monsignor Michael Olson told the story of Zacchaeus, the short tax collector who climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus because his view was blocked by a crowd.
Olson said it’s imperative that parishioners “work together to become the church Jesus wanted, not a crowd that blocks people from Jesus.”
His message hit home with Cathy Agada, 45, of Grand Prairie, who believes Olson will bring a new perspective to the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
Olson, a rector of Irving-based Holy Trinity Seminary, was named Tuesday as bishop-elect of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. He will be ordained and installed as bishop on Jan. 29.
“We’ve been without a shepherd for so long,” Agada said. “I hope we’ll go back to the basics.”
Olson’s appointment by Pope Francis marks the first time a priest within the Fort Worth diocese has been named its bishop, diocese officials said. And at 47, Olson will become the second youngest bishop in the United States to lead a diocese, behind seminary classmate Bishop Oscar Cantú of the Diocese of Las Cruces, N.M..
As the fourth bishop of the Fort Worth diocese, Olson will lead an estimated 710,000 Catholics in 90 parishes in the 28-county North Texas region.
He succeeds Bishop Kevin Vann, who was appointed Bishop of Orange, Calif., in September 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.
‘It’s nice to come home’
The announcement of the appointment was made Tuesday morning by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States — the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S..
Bishop-elect Olson is no stranger to North Texas; he was ordained as a priest in the Fort Worth diocese on June 3, 1994 and his first assignment was as the parochial vicar — an associate pastor — of St. Michael Parish in Bedford, where he served from July 1994 through June 1997.
“It’s nice to come home,” Olson told the crowd gathered for Mass on Tuesday at St. Patrick.
After serving in Bedford, he entered St. Louis University Center for Health Care Ethics for doctoral studies in 1997 and continued his studies there through June 2001. From July 2001 to May 2006, he served as formation adviser at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston.
In July 2006, he became pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Fort Worth where he served until June 2008. Concurrently, he served as the Vicar General in the administration of Bishop Vann.
In July 2008, he was assigned as the rector of Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, where he currently serves.
While rector, Olson earned his doctorate in moral theology at Academia Alfonsiana in Rome. On May 6, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI granted him the Papal Honor of Chaplain to His Holiness with the title of monsignor.
‘He’s a big teddy bear’
Olson has been very insightful with seminarians as rector of Holy Trinity, said Father Keith Koehl, the seminary’s vice-rector.
“He’s able to help them realize who they are,” Koehl said. “The people of the Fort Worth Diocese are blessed to have him as a leader, shepherd and a caring priest.”
Those attending Mass at St. Patrick on Tuesday afternoon agreed with Koehl’s description.
Olson’s not just awesome, “he’s a big teddy bear,” said Mary Angela McDonald, 49 of White Settlement, who said she had known Olson for 10 years. “He remembers every child’s name and he’s a beautiful human being.”
Others who know Olson are elated to have a bishop who was ordained here, said Sister Yolanda Cruz, 61, vice-chancellor of the Fort Worth diocese.
“He’s the bishop Fort Worth needed God to send to us,” Cruz said.
A native of Illinois
Olson was born on June 29, 1966 in Park Ridge, Ill., the son of Ronald G. and Janice Fetzer Olson. He has three sisters, Mary Elizabeth Rogers, Patricia Tucker and Lizbeth Schweitzer. He grew up in Des Plaines, Ill., where he and his family were members of St. Mary Parish. He received his high school diploma from Quigley Preparatory Seminary North in 1984 and became a seminarian the same year in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
A native of Illinois, when Olson’s family moved to Fort Worth as part of the corporate relocation of GTE/DC, Olson, a seminary student, transferred from the Archdiocese of Chicago to the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
Olson was the recipient of the Basselin Scholarship at the Catholic University of America, where he earned his bachelor and master degrees in philosophy in 1988 and 1989.
“I am very humbled and deeply moved by Pope Francis’ appointment of me to serve as the Bishop of Fort Worth,” Olson said.