Fr. Bolding takes on new role at St. Mary’s high school

Fr. Robert Bolding, a newly installed president-rector of St. Mary's High School, offers a few closing remarks during his Aug. 22 installation Mass. (Ambria Hammel/THE CATHOLIC SUN)

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted tended to a historic business matter at St. Mary’s High School. He installed Fr. Robert Bolding as the school’s first president-rector Aug. 22.

The appointment officially became effective July 1, but Fr. Bolding took an oath of fidelity and signed paperwork in front of every student and faculty during the first all-school Mass. He is the only priest at a diocesan high school to hold such a title.

The bishop appointed him as president-rector — with Suzanne Fessler remaining as principal — to more effectively fulfill the school’s mission of education and virtue formation. It’s a model that nationwide, some 55 percent of Catholic high schools similar to St. Mary’s are using. Brophy College Preparatory, Phoenix’s Jesuit high school, also uses the model with Fr. Edward Reese serving as president.

The bishop said the installation was a day he had been looking forward to for several months. The liturgy fell on the feast of the Queenship of Mary and held special significance. He was able to commend to Mary the school family and Fr. Bolding, whose focus will be on Catholic identity and mission and long-range planning.

“Love and truth. These are the primary things that help us develop as a human person and the qualities of a Catholic school,” the bishop said in his homily. “Only in truth does love shine fourth.”

He acknowledged the solid reputation of St. Mary’s and noted in particular, the Lady Knights’ national basketball championship. The bishop affirmed the team's priorities putting God, education and family first.

“Success is what we do to seek the truth and live a genuine life,” the bishop said.

Helping St. Mary’s students be successful is something that Fr. Bolding has been doing for three years. He has served the Knights as a campus chaplain and also taught theology.

“I’ve developed a great love and a fatherly concern for you,” Fr. Bolding told the students at the end of a litany of thank yous before the closing procession.

The students appreciate his presence. They regard him as a huge role model who encourages confession and talks them through personal issues.

Nick Perry, a senior, likes Fr. Bolding’s new role so far. He said it’s nice to have a combination of religion and business at the school. More than 80 percent of students are Catholic.

Classmate Danielle Williams agreed.

“It’s awesome because he’s very intellectual about different aspects of life,” she said before conferring with other students. “He brings that leadership that no one else has and a camaraderie of school and faith.”

Fr. Bolding said he was moved by making his oath of fidelity and standing at the altar beside the bishop.

“It’s a moving image of how catholic education is tied to the ministry of the bishop and the mission of the Church,” Fr. Bolding told The Catholic Sun.

His new administrative title as president-rector meant giving up his official title as chaplain, but Fr. Bolding plans to keep a pulse on campus life. After all, a school is only as good as what's happening the the classroom, he said.

Fr. Bolding is co-teaching a new honors theology class four days a week. That frees up the fifth school day to visit students in other classes, he said.

Fr. Bolding said it was important to maintain a direct participation in the teaching office of the priesthood.

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