‘Centering on Christ’ energized bishop 10 years ago — and still today

Sr. Maria Celia Molina, SNDdeN, greets Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted Nov. 25, 2003, the day his appointment to the Diocese of Phoenix was announced. (Robert DeFrancesco/CATHOLIC SUN)
Sr. Maria Celia Molina, SNDdeN, greets Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted Nov. 25, 2003, the day his appointment to the Diocese of Phoenix was announced. (Robert DeFrancesco/CATHOLIC SUN)

This article was originally published in the Dec. 4, 2003 edition of The Catholic Sun.

The Catholic faithful caught merely a glimpse of their new bishop last week when he braved the Phoenix media gauntlet for the very first time.

But once Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted says his farewells in Wichita to make Phoenix his permanent home (his installation is scheduled for Dec. 20 at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral), he plans to aggressively seek out and embrace his extended family here — his “brothers and sisters in Christ.”

“I’m excited about getting to know the people,” Bishop Olmsted told The Catholic Sun in a Nov. 25 interview. “The great thing about Catholicism is, we really are brothers and sisters in Christ. They don’t welcome me because they know me as a person so much; they welcome me because Christ sent me, and they’re confident this is God’s providence.”

Bishop Olmsted brings with him a wealth of lifetime experience, culture, and a passion for Christ.

Since 1974, he has been a member of the Jesus Caritas fraternity of priests, and says he has been deeply influenced by the witness and wisdom of Charles de Foucauld, and by the prayers and encouragement of many brother priests.

“The heart of Jesus Caritas is to constantly grow in our love of Christ.We try to do an hour of veneration before the Blessed Sacrament every day, we try to do a day alone each month, we try to live simply, and we try to be a universal brother,” he said.

And it is from this devotion to Christ, the bishop says, that he draws his strength and commits his faith in the pope’s wisdom in choosing him for the Phoenix Diocese.

“When we take time to keep ourselves centered in Christ, He gives us the energy to do whatever our mission is,” Bishop Olmsted said.

When queried on where he finds the time in his hectic schedule to spend an hour in veneration each day, Bishop Olmsted replied, “If you know that the most important thing to you is to continue to grow in intimacy with Jesus, you find the time to do it. He’s the center of my life. He gives me all the energy. He’s the reason why I live and serve.”

For 16 years, Bishop Olmsted lived in Rome where he earned a master’s degree in theology, a doctorate in Canon Law, and worked for more than nine years in the Secretariat of State of the Holy See. It was there that he became fluent in several languages, including Spanish, Latin, French and Italian. He also knows some German “from when I was in high school,” he said.

During the nine years of serving for Pope John Paul II, he resided at the Pontifical North American College and assisted seminarians with spiritual direction. While on the staff of the Secretariat of State, the bishop said he was one of the people responsible for translating and relaying to the pope “all of his letters, telephone calls, telegrams and e-mails” from people worldwide.

“This is kind of what God does; every once in awhile He pulls me up and puts me in places I never thought I’d be. I never thought I’d be in Wichita. I never, ever thought I’d work in the Vatican,” he said.

And now the bishop is in Phoenix. This isn’t his first time to the Southwest, however.

He has visited the area on several occasions, and his cousin attends Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale. As a seminarian he worked in Baja California, where he found faith he “had not encountered” before.

“There’s something about the poor who have the gift of faith, their eyes sparkle when they come to Mass, and there’s an enthusiasm when they sing. I had not encountered that before. And it gave me a deeper appreciation of the poor. I suppose it gave me a real appreciation of the link between the United States and Mexico. It was a wonderful experience,” said Bishop Olmsted.

Leaving family

Not only will Bishop Olmsted be leaving the “brothers and sisters in Christ” he’s come to know over the past few years in Kansas, he’ll also be leaving his nearby parents (celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary this month), four of five siblings, and 21 nieces and nephews.

“For me, I come because this is where God wants me to come,” said Bishop Olmsted.

Bishop Olmsted was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln,Neb., July 2, 1973. He was consecrated the Coadjutor Bishop of Wichita, Kan., April 20, 1999. Prior to his arrival in Wichita, he served as the rector and president of the Pontifical College Josephinum, a Catholic seminary in Columbus, Ohio, and the only pontifical seminary outside Rome.