On August 2, 2022, Bishop John P. Dolan was installed as the fifth bishop for the Diocese of Phoenix. He had previously served as the Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of San Diego. He joined Joyce Coronel and Jennifer Ellis on The Bishop’s Hour to reflect on his first year. Below are highlights from the interview that have been edited for length and clarity.
The Bishop’s Hour: Having lived your entire life in San Diego, what did you expect when you first arrived in Phoenix, how has this year compared to your expectations?
Bishop Dolan: In truth, I was expecting an overwhelming newness, and I mean overwhelming. I expected that it would be all-consuming and too much for me to address. So, I had to consciously take each day at a time, and that was very important for me. But what I discovered was that the level of hospitality was just amazing. And I discovered that it was not just unique to our Church. I found that to be true for Phoenix and Arizona. There’s just this different level of hospitality. It seems as though people are truly grateful that you’re there. I expected a lot of newness, but what really amazed me was that level of hospitality.
The Bishop’s Hour: At the very first press conference and in your early days here, you said you wanted to take some time to listen. Talk about your listening tour – some of the places you have been and what you have learned.
Bishop Dolan: Brett Meister, the director of communications, keeps a board in his office with all of the different places where I have been. It is a blur, I have to say. But I have been across the state and have covered a lot of the 44,000 square miles of the diocese; just the vast territory is amazing. I visited all of our high schools. I’ve had a chance to visit the presidents of some of our local colleges like Mary College at Arizona State University, Creighton University and Grand Canyon University. I have visited the Newman centers. All of this has been eye-opening for me. I visited with religious sisters, different cultural groups and organizations like Foundation for Senior Living, Catholic Charities, Catholic Education Arizona and St. Vincent de Paul. I visited a lot.
I’ve probably nailed down about five different things that I think we need to consider over the next five years, based on some of what I’ve heard. One is the continued schooling and backing of our Catholic school programs. The tax credits and other programs have been a blessing, but I think we can do much more, particularly for our high schools and especially for our underprivileged students. The other is our seminary system. Some great movement has been occurring there, so I want to capitalize on that. The evangelization effort is great. While we are growing in size with people coming here, the Church is growing, but what we’re also discovering is that the number of people coming to the sacraments has declined. That’s something we’re seeing across the nation. So we need to double up our efforts on what they call the Great Commission of Matthew 28 to evangelize. I’m so happy Joyce Coronel is taking up the flag as the manager of evangelization and sacramental life. The Christ in Our Neighborhood program and the Mental Health Ministry are also important initiatives.
The Bishop’s Hour: You launched the Office of Mental Health Ministry only a few months after coming to Phoenix. Talk about that.
Bishop Dolan: Well, that was a gift that landed on my lap, a gift from the Virginia G. Piper Foundation. They came in and asked what I would like to use this check for, and I looked at the size of the check and told them I wanted to do something near and dear to my heart, mental health ministry. That pleased the foundation, because it was something near and dear to their heart as well. They like to help people who are sometimes lost in the shuffle. It worked out well. We opened those doors in a matter of months and kicked off the ministry on the feast of
Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of our diocese. Pretty awesome!
The Bishop’s Hour: Another huge project is expanding seminary formation in the Diocese of Phoenix, a work that began with the opening of Nazareth House in 2019. You have included another year of formation here locally and are exploring how to bring the entire seminary experience into the diocese. Why is that important to you?
Bishop Dolan: There are a few reasons. First of all, it is to capitalize on what I have already seen with the first two years. Those two initial years, where a lot of our students are coming right out of high school, typically in a seminary situation you’ll have an attrition rate out of those first two years. Guys go in, they are discerning the possibility and they discern out in those first couple of years. What we have had here is the Nazareth House, where they spend those first years here locally. The best part of the program is that it is formation in a house setting, instead of an institutional setting. So, they are doing their own cooking, cleaning and laundry in a home kind of setting, it’s a repurposed convent. I thought that we should keep this momentum and we repurposed another convent at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale for what is called the spiritual propaedeutic year. This is a time when the students have to once again pause and reflect on what they are doing. They’re not really focused on education at that moment, but on deep prayer and spiritual direction. Think of a Camino, where you are just walking for a whole year and just wondering if this is indeed what God wants, but with a sense of direction, spiritual direction. So all of that is very exciting, and we’re intending to look at a four-year theology program as well. It’s all very exciting, but again it will always be about formation beginning in a home and not an institution. The other reason why I think it’s important we’re doing that here is, first, because of our size, we’re the fifth-largest diocese in the nation. But the second is, I’m finding that, culturally speaking, many other cultures are very interested in going to college but not necessarily going off to college. So, rather than sending our guys away, we find that we can respect their love for family by keeping them in the community, our own portion of the Lord’s vineyard.
Parishes Visited: 35
High Schools Visited: all seven
Galas/Special Dinners: 23
Masses at the Cathedral: 28
Apostolates Visited: 29
Miles Driven: More than 25,000