By Kirsten Bublitz, The Catholic Sun
FLAGSTAFF — Bishop John Dolan’s first experience at Holy Trinity Newman Center in Flagstaff on March 23rd was similar to student’s first experience at the center, having trouble finding the building. Realizing that he couldn’t find the center, Bishop Dolan called chaplain Father Matthew Lowry for more direction. Students caught wind of the situation and ran outside into blizzard conditions to meet the bishop at the nearest intersection and direct him to the center.
The Newman Center is not a recognizable building, oftentimes overlooked by students on campus. While giving Bishop Dolan a tour of the Newman Center, Father Lowry explained that it’s the hope to one day build a Newman Center that’s recognizable as a church, one that’s so beautiful on the outside that students will want to see the beauty of the inside.
Bishop Dolan commented on the beauty of the community while celebrating Mass with Father Lowry. After Mass, Bishop Dolan partook in the center’s weekly event called Newman Night, which consists of a free meal for students followed by an inspirational talk. Bishop Dolan ate with a group of men from the center and got to know many of the other students.
One student that Bishop Dolan met was Fredreka Wheeler, a sophomore transfer student from Glendale. Wheeler started attending the Newman Center last semester. She walked past the building on her way home on an anxious day and decided to stop in the chapel.
“I was welcomed with open arms, and no one glared at me when I started sobbing in the adoration chapel. Instead Alli, [a FOCUS missionary], invited me to the Halloween party and to Newman Night. I realized it was the Lord’s way of calling me back home and reminding me of His love.” Now, Wheeler is preparing to receive the sacraments of first communion and confirmation during the Easter Vigil.
Wheeler felt blessed to have Bishop Dolan at Newman Night, and his presence helped her to feel a part of the Diocese of Phoenix.
“He was such a humble person and gave his undivided attention to everyone he met! Sometimes you can feel far removed from church leaders, and they can be intimidating. To have Bishop Dolan talk to us, eat dinner with us, take photos with us—it makes you feel, as a young person, more important to the Phoenix Catholic community.”
Bishop Dolan answered student’s pressing questions after dinner, first giving them an overview of his life and inviting them into a deep passion of his heart, mental health ministry.
“Some of you might have family or friends who have died by suicide, so I relate to that and that is a very big passion of mine,” Bishop Dolan said.
At first students seemed intimidated to ask Bishop Dolan questions. He naturally broke the ice in his genuine, down-to-earth way, causing an eruption of laughter as he said, “What have you got to say? I believe this was a Q and A, right?”
It was after that moment of laughter that students seemed to take a collective deep breath, knowing that they were in the presence of not just their bishop but of a mentor, and father figure to whom they could open up.
One student pointed out that NAU has a big LGBTQ population and was wondering how he might welcome those students and bring them closer to Jesus.
“You have to be a friend whether or not they ever come to Christ. In mental health ministry, I’m walking with people who are bipolar or depressed and letting them know that they have a place in the church. That is true for those who may not fit within the moral compass of the church. They might not want to come to church. We have to be the church and go to them.”
Many students at the Newman Center are wrestling with their vocation, wondering how to discern God’s plan for them versus the plan that they have for themselves. A FOCUS missionary at the NAU Newman Center asked for Bishop Dolan’s advice on discernment.
“Do you believe that God has belief in you, that God has hope in you, that He loves you? Ask God, ‘Do you believe in me?’ [God says] I have great hope for you and I loved you long before you ever spent time adoring me,” Bishop Dolan said. “That’s how I would start a vocation.”
Another student asked how Bishop Dolan rests on the Sabbath and got a humbling response that was inspired by Pope Saint John Paul II’s Sabbath rituals.
“God did not rest because He was tired or because he needed to relax. He rested back from his work like an artist would rest back from his work and say, ‘Wow, I can rest with that.’ Saturday evening I say, ‘Can I rest with wherever I’ve been [this week]? The good the bad and the ugly?’
“The answer is, ‘Yes I’m going to have to rest with it.’ [I] look back and think, ‘Did I really cooperate with God; is it a masterpiece I’ve offered in this past week and if not how can I improve my skills?’ It’s not so much a sitting down and not doing anything; it’s just to rest with where I’ve been. At the end of the week you should go, ‘A masterpiece. It was a great week.’ Oftentimes, it isn’t a masterpiece, I admit it, but I have to rest with it.”
One student studying education asked how to teach in public schools while also serving Christ. The question touched the hearts of other students, many of whom are studying education.
“If a student says, ‘Are you Catholic?’ You can say, ‘Yes I am.’ Once that window is open, start talking. There are a number of ways you can be creative in opening up those doors, broadening their horizons. Unfortunately, in many ways our world says the Church is closed in when really the world is closed in. You have to be creative,” Bishop Dolan said. “I’m right behind you. I believe in you.”
Bishop Dolan saying that he believes in the students harkens back to something else that he said, a reminder that God first believes in us.
“Long before you believed in God, God believed in you. Sometimes I think, how did I get to be the bishop in Phoenix? And God [says], ‘Because I have great hope in you.’ To me, that comforts me and spurs me on in my own faith. I wouldn’t have faith in God if he didn’t have faith in me.”