Bishop Michael F. Olson urged fellow believers to “say yes to God” on Wednesday after he was ordained as the fourth bishop of the burgeoning Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
“We are called to say yes,” Olson declared to about 8,500 people who almost filled the Fort Worth Convention Center arena.
In the crowd were family and friends, some of America’s top Catholic leaders and a sea of white-robed priests and seminarians.
Olson, the first priest from the Fort Worth Diocese to be named its bishop, urged Catholics to boldly follow the challenge of Pope Francis to become missionaries and reach out in love to people.
“Fear has no place in the life of a disciple,” he said. “Don’t follow the spirit of fear but follow the gift of love. Love is even more basic than witness, for witness grows out of love.”
Olson’s consecration included a Mass, and he drew applause and laughter when he showed some of his humor during his closing comments.
“With all the priests, bishops and archbishops gathered here,” Olson said, “I’m almost tempted to ask, ‘Does this Mass count for Sunday?’ ’’
Olson spoke in Spanish to Hispanics in the audience, telling them he knows that many came here to escape the violence of drugs and war but may feel excluded from society. He assured them that they are welcome and included in the life of the church.
Olson thanked many people for their support, including his parents “for giving me life.”
At the climax of the consecration service, Olson lay facedown before the improvised altar during a long series of prayers. Then he knelt before a giant cross on the back wall during the laying-on of hands and anointing ceremonies consecrating him as bishop of the 28-county diocese.
“This is a great day for Fort Worth,” declared Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, who led the consecration. He asked Olson a series of questions related to being a faithful bishop, and Olson replied “I do” to most and on the final question answered, “I do with the help of God.”
In his homily, Garcia-Siller advised Olson: “To be an effective bishop, you must get your hands dirty. No matter how confusing, messy or bewildering life may seem, it is there that you will encounter the Lord.”
Assisting in the consecration was former Fort Worth Bishop Kevin Vann, now bishop of the Diocese of Orange, Calif., and Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston. Also participating, dressed in scarlet robes, was Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano of Washington, D.C., ambassador of Pope Francis in the United States, read the papal mandate naming Olson bishop. The letter from the pope spoke of the need for a new bishop since Vann had been transferred to the California diocese.
“For this reason, we turn our eyes to you, beloved son, since in our judgment you have clearly shown the virtues and qualities” required of a bishop, the letter stated. “From the fullness of our Apostolic Authority, we name and appoint you, beloved son, bishop of Fort Worth.”
Olson, 47, a native of Park Ridge, Ill., served as vicar general when Vann was Fort Worth bishop during six years when the diocese increased from 400,000 parishioners to more than 700,000.
“You are very lucky to have Michael as your new bishop,” said the Rev. Patrick Rugen, one of Olson’s high school and college teachers, who traveled from Chicago to attend. “He’s very, very sharp. He’s really got a wonderful mind. He loves people. He’s a great gift to the church, and I think a very great gift to Fort Worth.”
Olson is the second-youngest bishop in the United States. The youngest, Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Diocese of Las Cruces, N.M., who is six months younger, was among bishops attending. He was a classmate of Olson’s at the University of St. Thomas’ St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston.
As a new bishop, Olson said, he plans to reach out to other faiths. He will continue being among Christian and Jewish panelists on the American Religious Townhall program taped in Dallas and televised nationwide on cable and satellite.
A fellow panelist who attended the ordination, the Rev. Tom Plumbley, pastor of Fort Worth’s First Christian Church, called Olson “a very, very bright man.”
“He and I often sit next to each other on the panel,” Plumbley said. “We disagree on some issues, but I personally count him as a friend, and I think he would count me as a friend.”
Bishop Michael Lowry, leader of the United Methodist Central Texas Conference, based in Fort Worth, attended a vespers service Tuesday night at St. Patrick Cathedral where Olson was presented with a bishop’s ring, miter and pectoral cross.
“I’m delighted to welcome Bishop Olson as the new bishop,” Lowry said. “He’s clearly a man who not only has a heart for God but also a heart for ecumenical outreach.”
Two Fort Worth rabbis also welcomed Olson.
Rabbi Andrew Bloom of Fort Worth’s Congregation Ahavath Sholom attended the vespers service. Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger, leader of Beth-El Congregation, said he looks forward to working with Olson.
“I think it’s really wonderful that the church has found someone from Fort Worth who really understands the community to be the new Catholic bishop,” Mecklenburger said.
Choirs from Our Mother of Mercy Church in Fort Worth sang at the vespers service. Before Wednesday’s ordination at the convention center, a Spanish choir from St. Peter the Apostle Church in White Settlement, a Tongan choir from St. Michael Catholic Church in Bedford, a choir from Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Arlington and a diocesan children’s choir performed.
On the heels of Olson’s appointment, another Fort Worth priest, Monsignor Stephen J. Berg, who had been serving as diocesan administrator, became the second priest from the Fort Worth Diocese to be named a bishop. Berg will be ordained Feb. 27 as bishop of the Diocese of Pueblo, Colo.
Olson sees the appointment of two bishops from Fort Worth as “a vote of confidence for all of our Fort Worth priests whose good efforts are being recognized. It’s also the fruit of the affirmation and encouragement that Bishop Vann did during his time here.”
Several relatives were at the ordination, including Olson’s parents, Ronald J. Olson and Janice Fetzer Olson of North Richland Hills, and three younger sisters, Patty Tucker and Mary Elizabeth Rogers of Fort Worth and Lizbeth Schweitzer of Maryland.
Several of Olson’s classmates from Chicago and Houston attended, including Bob Gruesfelder, of Prospect, Ill., who said he wasn’t surprised that Olson is taking leadership roles.
“He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met and one of the funniest,” said Gruesfelder, who got to know Olson when they were commuting by train from suburban areas to the Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary in downtown Chicago. “Having Michael to talk to and laugh with made those long, exhausting commutes easier.”
In a recent interview, Olson said he plans to carry out many of the policies of Vann, including completing a $20 million capital improvement program to buy land, construct buildings and initiate programs that will be needed based on a study predicting further growth in the diocese.
“I’m very privileged to have worked very closely with Bishop Vann and learning from him,” Olson said. “I saw how he cared for his priests. I have to be a good pastor to my priests. I have to earn their trust and live with that trust.”
Olson promised vigilance in combating sexual abuse and vowed to seek the diocese’s reconciliation with local Catholics who have reported abuse in the last several years.
“I am not going to say that this issue is a matter of the past,” Olson said. “I have to always be mindful of what has happened so as to respect the integrity of those men and women who suffered great betrayal and pain at the hands of those who should have cared for them.”
Training of clergy and laypeople about such abuse will continue, he said. He plans to further develop the policy of always involving law enforcement authorities and others trained to handle abuse allegations.
The new bishop praised Pope Francis and said he doesn’t think the pontiff’s statements about Catholics focusing too much on hot-button issues such as abortion, birth control and gay rights signal big changes in church teaching.
“I’m someone who reads the texts as well as listens, and I see nothing substantially different in what Pope Francis is saying than what was said by Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II,” he said.
Olson doesn’t think Pope Francis is resetting priorities as much as he is urging Catholics to present a more positive message.
“Too often we as leaders of the church have allowed ourselves to be presented as the people who always say no,” Olson said. “I think we need to recalibrate the conversation to what are we saying yes to.
“We are saying yes to life. We are saying yes to the poor. We are saying yes to the immigrant. We are saying yes to harmony and peace among the races. We are saying yes to the rights and responsibilities of religious liberty. We are saying yes to the integrity of the conscience. We are saying yes to the importance of sexuality within marriage.”
Olson asked for prayers from parishioners and people of all faiths as he seeks to be a good bishop “after the heart of Jesus.”
“I am a sinner in need of redemption just like they are,” he said. “I will try my best.”