Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted installed Fr. Fernando Camou as the new rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral April 18.
In his homily, Bishop Olmsted exhorted the new rector to be a “loving father, a gentle shepherd and a wise teacher.”
“Teaching the truth of the Gospel in all its integrity and calling people to the obedience of faith is a great blessing for a parish community, especially those truths which are not popular but true,” he said.
A faithful priest can teach clearly, and as a loving father, a faithful priest helps others discover God’s merciful fatherhood and their own identities as His sons and daughters.
“Children don’t need their father to be popular; they need him to remain steadfast when disaster comes, to cling to Christ during hardships and humiliation,” he said. “They need to see his fidelity to Christ, and his daily reliance on the sacraments of the Church, especially confession and the Eucharist.”
The cathedral serves as the primary church of the bishop and diocese. According to Canon 556, the bishop appoints a rector to care for a non-parochial church, such as a cathedral or basilica, which does not typically have parish boundaries. Most cathedrals in the United States are also territorial parishes, with the cathedral rector functioning as a pastor.
In the decree of appointment, Bishop Olmsted granted Fr. Camou “all the faculties, rights and duties” for a “pastor of a territorial parish.” The decree also named Fr. Camou associate director of the Office of Worship.
Bishop Olmsted told The Catholic Sun that Fr. Camou is bilingual, recently earned a Licentiate of Sacred Theology in liturgy, and has been helping celebrate Mass at the cathedral over the last year while serving as vice rector of Nazareth House Seminary.
“He has a great love for Christ and a confidence in Christ’s love for him, so he’s able to take on responsibilities with a peacefulness and calm,” added the bishop.
Bishop Olmsted ordained Fr. Camou to the priesthood in that same cathedral June 27, 2015, before assigning him to serve as parochial vicar of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Avondale. While there, Fr. Camou said he grew as a pastor and learned the administrative aspects of parish life.
“I have a deep love for St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and a lot of the families I got to meet and walk with,” he said. “I have very significant memories [of] … being at people’s death beds, being with families in intense grief and in intense joy of baptisms and marriages.”
He next took on the role of founding chaplain at St. John Paul II Catholic High School. Founding and current principal Dominican Sister Mary Jordan Hoover said Fr. Camou was instrumental in developing a strong Catholic culture.
“He provided leadership in that way as the spiritual father, helping the faculty, staff and students to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Sr. Mary Jordan.
In 2019, Fr. Camou returned to Rome — where he completed his seminary studies — to pursue a licentiate. A diocesan priest should be a theologian, said Fr. Camou, so he can address difficult and doctrinal questions. Being in Rome, he added, “reminded me I belong to Jesus, and that’s true whether I’m in the trenches of Calcutta, or sitting with one individual in my parish office or studying in a library in Rome.”
See more photos from the Mass on the @PhoenixDiocese Facebook Page
Upon returning last year, Fr. Camou became Nazareth House’s vice rector, assisting rector and diocesan vocations director Fr. Paul Sullivan. In this capacity, he oversaw the seminarians’ pastoral work with Catholic Charities, acted as a formator and assisted with the seminary’s day-to-day operations.
Fr. Sullivan said that the seminarians were very happy for him, but that they would miss “his pastoral presence and encouragement for the guys in virtuous living and faithfulness.”
Fr. Camou’s mother, Josefina Camou, called having a priest in the family a “great blessing.” She recalled how Fr. Camou celebrated a funeral Mass for his uncle who had died from Covid-related complications. The liturgy was livestreamed, allowing family members from the U.S. and Mexico to participate.
“All of the Camous were together from all over the world. It was very special coming from Fr. Fernando, from the nephew,” she said. “Fr. Fernando is a great example. His faithfulness to the Church is going to bring a lot to the cathedral.”
Following the homily, Bishop Olmsted presided over the Rite of Installation. The new rector recited and signed the Oath of Fidelity on the altar, promising to “hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety,” and to “hand it on and explain it,” avoiding “any teachings opposed to that faith.”
The liturgy was also the last to be televised from the cathedral for several months. With Ss. Simon and Jude’s success in the “Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante” campaign, the interior of the church is being renovated with new pews and tile. During the renovations, Masses will be celebrated in the parish’s Smith Hall, while the televised Mass will be broadcast from St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Phoenix.
Chris Buehnerkemper, deputy grand knight for Knights of Columbus Council 12708, said the men’s organization is excited to work with Fr. Camou.
“We’re looking forward to being able to serve him and serve our parish as we continue to transition out of this pandemic,” said Buehnerkemper. “We’re looking forward to being able to do more again with families and with him as our spiritual leader.”
Loreto Sister Raphael Quinn, principal of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral School told The Catholic Sun that Fr. Camou has integrated himself into the school community.
“The teachers and the students felt very welcomed by him, and we were able to enter into his joy,” said Sr. Raphael.
Longtime parishioner and pastoral council member Roger Downey praised Fr. Camou’s energy.
“Bishop has once again shown great wisdom in appointing Fr. Camou as rector here,” Downey said. “He is so spiritual, he’s young and he’s so energetic.”
Parish staff members Cecilia Deguire and Loreto Sister Dymphna Doran said they and the rest of the staff welcomed Fr. Camou with open arms.
“Father came in, wanting to know all about us and wanting to just get acquainted,” said Deguire, who serves as the cathedral’s office manager. “He just came right in like he was at home.”
“It’s a hard time to come in when there’s going to be renovation in the cathedral and get to know everybody,” added Sr. Dymphna, the cathedral’s pastoral associate. “I see him as a very good leader. He’s already on top of so much, even in a short time.”
At the time Fr. Camou learned of his appointment, he was “totally shocked” — he didn’t expect to return to parish ministry so soon. But, he said, taking on this new role is a leap of faith and an act of obedience.
“At the heart of every priest’s heart is connected to the pastoral ministry of Christ, the shepherding of souls,” reflected Fr. Camou. “One of the central identities, the way the Lord works through his priests, is the care of souls, and there’s just no greater privilege.”
Fr. Camou succeeds Fr. John Lankeit as the cathedral rector, who is taking a medical leave of absence.