Fr. John Parks, the newly appointed Vicar for Evangelization, preached the homily at the closing Mass for the Young Men’s Conference at St. Bernadette Parish Dec. 31 of last year. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

Fr. John Parks, who currently serves as chaplain at Notre Dame Preparatory, has been appointed by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted to fill the newly created role of Vicar for Evangelization.

According to canon law, a bishop can appoint an episcopal vicar to govern a “certain type of affairs” within the diocese.

“Being the Vicar of Evangelization means I assist Bishop Olmsted in discerning what it is the Holy Spirit is doing in the Diocese of Phoenix concerning evangelization,” said Fr. Parks.

In his new role, Fr. Parks will be taking over the leadership of the diocese’s Division of Education and Evangelization, currently headed by MaryBeth Mueller, who will be retiring over the summer after more than 30 years of service to the Diocese of Phoenix.

“I welcome Fr. Parks to his new position as Vicar of Evangelization,” said Mueller. “He is blessed to inherit a great staff that give tirelessly in their outreach efforts of evangelization. His leadership and guidance will assist in the growth and outreach of the present and future programs that will enhance evangelization efforts at the parish and diocesan levels.”

Mueller also currently serves as superintendent of the Catholic Schools Office. As vicar, Fr. Parks will oversee Catholic schools, in addition to Family Catechesis, Safe Environment Training and the Kino Catechetical Institute. The diocese will hire a new superintendent to fill that part of Mueller’s job.

At his first assignment as a priest after his 2010 ordination, Fr. Parks received a very direct experience in evangelization while serving as parochial vicar of St. Daniel the Prophet Parish in Scottsdale. He found himself assisting his pastor, Fr. Thaddeus McGuire, in knocking on every door within the parish boundaries.

“One of the things that impressed upon me was that the Gospel’s for everyone, and that was a real concrete way of showing it,” he said. “Obviously we’re called to go to the ends of the earth, but sometimes going to the ends of the earth is the person who lives next door to you, or the person who works in the cubicle next to you at work. It can take a lot of courage to preach the Gospel where you live.”

Fr. Parks said they must have knocked on close to 12,000 doors. He learned that many of those who were fallen away Catholics had never been invited to have an encounter with Jesus.

“There are people who haven’t been to church in a very long time and all they’re waiting for is an invitation, to present the Gospel to them and say, ‘Do you want to make Jesus the Lord of your life?’”

His next assignment was to serve at St. Timothy Parish in Mesa under Fr. Charlie Goraieb.

“If you asked him what his leadership style was he’d say, ‘I try to do a Holy Hour every day,’ and I came to realize that he was sincere about that and that the Holy Spirit really will guide you,” Fr. Parks recalled.

He started serving at Notre Dame full-time in 2014, where he will continue to serve for the remainder of the semester, while working part-time at the Diocesan Pastoral Center. He also celebrates Mass as a priest-in-residence at St. Bernadette Parish in Scottsdale. He’ll transition into his new role full-time July 1. In the meantime, he’ll also be shadowing Mueller.

“I’ve worked with MaryBeth for the last few years, and she’s been a tireless promoter of Catholic education. A lot of the advancement we’ve made is because of MaryBeth Mueller,” he said. “There’s still a lot for me to learn from her, which is why I’ll be shadowing her.”

Reflecting on the meaning of evangelization, Fr. Parks said the goal is to help people become missionary disciples and be in a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ by growing in intimacy with Him and conforming their lives to His will.

“When we see a good movie, we tell people! When we eat a good sandwich, we tell people! Why would we not tell people about the most important encounter — the God of the universe is passionately in love with you?” Fr. Parks exclaimed.

“I’m in charge of a division that’s job is to fulfill the desire of every human heart. Wow,” he said in awe. “Of course you need the Holy Spirit and grace for that, but that’s our mission. That’s awesome. That’s fun. That’s exciting.”