Fr. John Nahrgang is Vicar of Evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix. (Jennifer Ellis/CATHOLIC SUN)

PHOENIX — The Diocese of Phoenix has a new assistant to Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in discerning God’s direction for evangelization.

Fr. John Nahrgang is the new Vicar of Evangelization Aug. 16, following his appointment by Bishop Olmsted in the late spring.

He will lead what is known as the Division of Evangelization, which includes the Catholic Schools Office, Marriage and Respect Life Office, and Kino Catechetical Institute, which provides courses of study in catechetical formation and oversees the catechist certification process for all those employed by diocesan institutions.

“This office assists our bishop in his capacity as the principal evangelizer of our diocese, which goes all the way back to the Great Commission from Jesus,” Fr. Nahrgang told The Catholic Sun. “Just before His Ascension, Jesus said to His followers, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’”

Fr. Nahrgang continued: “This remains the great task of the Church. All of us are called to participate in this mission, in our parishes and our schools and beyond; to be evangelized and to evangelize, to grow in holiness always with the help of God’s grace and to be a light for others.”

Outreach, like most other activities within the diocese, has been impacted by the health protocols tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Parish activities are returning to normal or near-normal levels throughout much of the diocese.

Fr. Nahrgang is looking forward to his new role, including more in-person communication of the Gospel and its power to transform.

“I love witnessing and hearing peoples’ testimonies regarding how God is moving in their lives, how they are experiencing grace and transformation, because it’s the greatest transformation there is,” he said. “It is the transformation that opens the door to eternal life. When people experience liberation from sin, when they grow in virtue, when they experience that special happiness that only comes from authentic communion with God and others — that’s what it is all about. And I love being a witness to it.”

Fr. John Nahrgang distributes holy Communion at his ordination Mass at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Chandler June 16, 2018. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Fr. Nahrgang graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2005. He joined the diocese in 2013, when he was “adopted” by Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Glendale. He later attended Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, and was ordained as a transitional deacon in 2017, serving at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, where he was involved in the Hispanic ministry. Fr. Nahrgang was ordained a priest a year later.

Steve Green, Kino Catechetical Institute’s director and co-host of the podcast, “The Catholic Conversation,” has interviewed Fr. Nahrgang a number of times and describes him as very intelligent, as well as a man of deep prayer and a gifted teacher and researcher.

“He loves to take a topic and deep dive. I have rarely had a conversation where you don’t learn something with him. He’s passionate and excited and has a gift as a natural communicator and teacher. We are very excited to work with him and for what he brings,” Green said.

Fr. Nahrgang also brings the experience of conversion to Catholicism.

He loves to take a topic and deep dive. I have rarely had a conversation where you don’t learn something with him. He’s passionate and excited and has a gift as a natural communicator and teacher.

Raised loosely in the Methodist Church, a series of experiences starting at age 10 changed his heart and his mind. Those occurrences were led by the influence of Mary while studying in Monterrey, Mexico, and praying the rosary.

“When someone has gone through the conversion process, they have a different understanding of where people are (religiously and spiritually) before or going through the process,” explained Dcn. Doug Bogart, associate director of Education and Formation for the Diocese’s Office of the Diaconate. “That can be helpful (since) we no longer live in a Catholic or a Christian culture. The need Is critical to target both within and without the Church.”

‘We must not be afraid to engage’

The Roman Catholic Church, as well as other denominations, faces the post-pandemic challenge of getting worshipers back in church as well as pre-pandemic losses.

“The phenomenon of the rising number of people who are disaffiliating from the Catholic Church — and religion altogether — presents a challenging cultural situation for the Church today,” states the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Evangelization Committee on its website.

Pope Francis addressed the topic seven years before the pandemic in his Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium, The Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World,” issued Nov. 24, 2013.

“Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigor!” (Evangelii Gaudium, 109).

Fr. Nahrgang expressed that hope and optimism, founded in a reliance on God and His power, to carry out the mission of evangelization.

“There remains much fear and division among people. We need the liberating power of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Christ now more than ever,” he said. “We must not allow fear to paralyze us. God wants to liberate us from fear and empower us to spread truth, love, faith and hope, just as we witness in the Book of Acts. The Great Commission from Jesus, (Matt. 28:16-17) his mandate to make disciples, to baptize and to observe everything he taught us, remains the great task of the Church. All of us have a part to play. We must not be afraid to engage, to pray, to sacrifice, and with God’s help try to set an example for others.”

Fr. Nahrgang succeeds Fr. John Parks, the diocese’s first Vicar of Evangelization, who is now pastor of St. Theresa Parish in Phoenix.