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A new shepherd

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Posted: Saturday, December 20, 2003 3:27 am | Updated: 2:19 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

More than 480,000 Catholics in Arizona get their new bishop today, ending a tumultuous year for an embattled diocese.

During a morning of pageantry not seen in the diocese in more than 20 years, about 1,200 people — by invitation only — will pack into Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix for the formal installation of Thomas J. Olmsted as the fourth bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.

The event, which will include a Mass and a large choir invited from every parish, will be broadcast live at 10 a.m. on KTVK-TV (Channel 3), and, in Spanish, on cable’s Mas Arizona TV.

Olmsted, 56, will take over from the interim leader, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., who was abruptly put in charge in June.

The change came after Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien resigned after being charged with leaving the scene of a fatal hit-and-run that occurred June 14 in Phoenix. The tragedy occurred days after O’Brien, 68, already under heavy criticism for his handling of sexual misconduct cases of priests, was granted immunity from prosecution by Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley in exchange for cooperation in further investigations and admitting mistakes he had made with errant priests.

O’Brien had been bishop for 21 years.

Today’s installation comes just 26 days after Pope John Paul II announced his choice of Olmsted, a sitting bishop in Wichita, Kan.

Olmsted, a priest since 1973, was appointed the coadjutor of the Diocese of Wichita in 1999 and took over full duties there in 2001.

He was virtually unknown by Arizona Catholics when his name came to light in the pre-dawn announcement on Nov. 25. That morning, he was formally introduced as the new bishop during a news conference where he told Catholics, "I come as a servant of hope."

A canon lawyer and seasoned in Catholic administration, education and parish work, Olmsted spent several stints, totalling 16 years, in Rome, working in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State with duties directly involving the pope.

Olmsted had insisted the installation be "simple, humble and fairly soon."

While canon law requires that installation occur within 60 days of the appointment, Olmsted wanted his installation before Christmas. Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, or nuncio, was available to participate on this date.

With less than four weeks’ notice, diocesan staff and volunteers scrambled to pull off today’s installation.

The new bishop chose the cathedral, known as "The Bishop’s Church," after being given a list of options. That means limited seating (about 1,200) compared with Wells Fargo Arena at Arizona State University, which had 14,700 seats when O’Brien was installed there in 1982, and the diocese had 263,000 Catholics. In 1977, Symphony Hall (capacity of 1,338) in downtown Phoenix hosted the installation of Bishop James Rausch.

Besides Archbishop Montalvo, Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, is expected to attend. About 20 other bishops from around the country have said they would be on hand today, but the installation’s proximity to Christmas has kept other bishops from making the trip. O’Brien will sit with other bishops, but will not otherwise participate in the ceremonies.

A card with the bishop’s face will be the only souvenir, beside the printed program, said Sister M. Anthony Poerio, director of worship and a key installation planner with Monsignor Dale Fushek, a vicar general.

"It is by ticket only just because the space is limited," Poerio said.

"There will be well over 400 and maybe 500 people in the procession," Fushek said. "That will take 20 minutes, if I’m lucky, if I can herd them in."

The 175 priests, 175 deacons and 200 nuns alone will fill much of the pew space, he said. Many of the 300 diocesan priests cannot attend, particularly because of weddings scheduled for today, a diocesan staff member said.

The installation will take place after a gathering hymn and before the Mass.

"The nuncio will have a little exchange of dialogue between him and Bishop Olmsted, and then there will be a prayer where all people will stand and pray for the new bishop — a prayer of support and commitment," Poerio said. "Then we will go into a singing of the ‘Gloria’ " and a reading of the official papers spelling out Olmsted’s appointment.

Olmsted has asked O’Brien to remain in the north Phoenix bishop’s home where he has lived throughout his tenure.

"He specifically wants Bishop O’Brien to have the freedom to stay there, and he (Olmsted) is going to move into two small rooms in the cathedral rectory," Fushek said.

The new bishop will celebrate his first parish Mass on Sunday morning at Our Lady of Immaculate Heart Parish in downtown Phoenix.

Personal information

Name: The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted

Born: Jan. 21, 1947, in Marysville, Kan.

Education: St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, 1969, B.A., philosophy; advanced studies North American College in Rome and Pontifical Gregorian University, doctorate in canon law, 1981.

Ordination to priesthood: July 2, 1973, Diocese of Lincoln, Neb.

Ordination to bishop: April 20, 1999

Assignments: Associate pastor in Lincoln parish, 1973-76; assistant at the secretariat of state of the Holy See and assistant spiritual director at Pontifical North American College in Rome, 1979-88; pastor of parish in Seward, Neb., 1989-93; dean of personal formation, rector and then president of Pontifical College Josephinum of Columbus, Ohio, 1993-99; coadjutor bishop of Diocese of Wichita, Kan., 1999-2001; and bishop of Diocese of Wichita, Oct. 4, 2001, to present.

National work: Served on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees of priestly formation; consecrated life; and administration.

Interests: Classical music, history, basketball, baseball, outdoors.

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