SUN CITY WEST, Ariz. — The Diocese of Phoenix has a new parish, and its shepherd is well-acquainted with its flock.
The elevation of Prince of Peace in Sun City West in the northwest Valley to become the diocese’s 95th parish took effect Saturday May 1, followed the next day by Mass celebrated by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, who installed Fr. David M. Ostler as the new parish’s first pastor.
Fr. Ostler had been pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, also in Sun City West, since 2005. Until Saturday, Prince of Peace was part of Our Lady of Lourdes. Fr. John Bonavitacola, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tempe for 21 years, will move into that role for Our Lady of Lourdes July 1. Fr. Ostler will serve as pastor of both parishes until then.
“This is an historic day in the Diocese of Phoenix. It’s an important day for the continuing growth of our diocese,” Bishop Olmsted told the congregation just before his homily. About 700 people, roughly half its capacity, were inside the nave for Fr. Ostler’s installation.
“This is a very special day for us. We come together to celebrate in love and devotion to Our Lord, Jesus Christ,” Fr. Ostler told the congregation.
The elevation of Prince of Peace — coming on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker — and Fr. Ostler’s installation are the latest steps of Bishop Olmsted’s response to the area’s continuing population surge, including the planned community of Vistancia north of Prince of Peace. U.S. Census Bureau data show that as of 2019, Vistancia had a population of 55,327, roughly twice that of Sun City West’s 25,544. Nearly 3,000 families attend Our Lady of Lourdes and Prince of Peace, according to the parish website.
As pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, Fr. Bonavitacola will oversee future development of the Catholic community north of Loop 303, where Vistancia is located, Bishop Olmsted announced the assignment with the changes in April.
“He’s very smart, and he ran a parish (Our Lady of Mount Carmel) with a school. If you can run a school, you can run anything. The bishop chose very well,” Fr. Ostler said of Fr. Bonavitacola, who was not present at the Installation Mass.
Once dominated by membership from its two nearest senior communities, Sun City West and Sun City Grand, Prince of Peace has developed into a burgeoning parish of young families mixed with its older population.
“There are a lot of young families here,” said Sal Martin, 38, of Peoria, who attended Mass with his wife, Tara, and five children, ranging in age from 12 to 3 months. Martin’s son, Noah, 11, was one of the altar servers.
Martin said he and his wife found an orthodox approach to the Mass and the teaching there — including instruction for his children — that kept them making the 17-minute drive from their Peoria home.
“The commitment to the faith. The Church needs it right now. It seems that – and not just with younger families — there is a yearning for that now,” he explained.
Prince of Peace’s 9 a.m. is considered its “family Mass,” with features of traditional worship.
“We have developed a home for younger families, homeschoolers who prefer a traditional Mass. We sing the English chant, and some parts of the Mass are in Latin,” he explained, adding that other Masses throughout the weekend offer a more contemporary feel, with piano and guitar. “We really try to reach out to everybody.”
The parish drew Bishop Olmsted’s praise for its work for the faith and the diocese.
“A few years ago when I came here to express my gratification at your participation in ‘Together, Let Us Go Forth,’ (the diocesan-wide discipleship and evangelism campaign), I was deeply impressed with the great joy and enthusiasm of all the members of this parish,” the bishop said. “Because you kept your eyes fixed on Jesus, the Risen Lord. Your love for Him, your generous response to the campaign moved my heart as a bishop and deepened my desire to work closely with you in addressing these growing needs.”
Continued devotion will be equally important, he said.
“In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us the key to bearing good fruit — ‘I am the vine. You are the branches. Remain in me.’ (John 15:1-8),” he said in his homily. “The wood of a vine is not even good for firewood. The people of Jerusalem were prohibited from bringing the wood of a vine to help heat the temple because it only produced ashes. If a vine does not produce grapes, it is worthless. That is what we human beings become if we do not remain part of the vine that is Christ.”
Prince of Peace’s commitment to reach out to new community members was reflected in a decision a few years ago to buy a trailer, supplies and articles for celebrating Mass, and rental of a gym at a local elementary school in Vistancia. That venue served worshipers for about a year and a half before the novel Coronavirus pandemic abruptly forced temporary closure of the school. While some attendees from Vistancia made their way to Prince of Peace, Fr. Ostler believes others stopped attending regularly or are doing so only sporadically.
The outreach to bring those people back has been under way for some time and will continue under Fr. Bonavitacola’s leadership in July.
“That is going to be a challenge for all of us in the Church,” Fr. Ostler said, adding that Bishop Olmsted’s recent Apostolic Exhortation “Veneremur Cernui – Down in Adoration Falling,” will be a key theme. “The Eucharist is the answer. If people fall in love with Christ — truly present in the Eucharist — where else can they go?”
Parishioners were excited at the latest developments.
“People in Sun City West knew about (this) church, we never had to do much outreach. There was a lot of word of mouth,” said Lois Scheid, a member of the hospitality committee.
“We have prayed about this for a long time. It is so important (to be in church),” said Gail Bunn, the new chair of Prince of Peace’s Pastoral Council.
“People are social animals. We need each other. We certainly need churches. We need to meet. Even positive people are feeling isolated and downhearted, and church brings that sense of community. If you believe in God, it’s uplifting because your friends and neighbors who believe the same way you do are there, and it really lifts your spirits.”