For the new Catholic bishop, there was no better place to start the new year than at downtown Mesa's Queen of Peace Church.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted made his first trip to the East Valley on Thursday to celebrate two Masses on the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and the World Day of Peace — a holy day for Roman Catholics.
"Oh, that was very special," parishioner Donicia Rutledge said.
Olmsted, installed last month as the fourth bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, said the Mesa church's name was responsible for the timing of his visit. He also said it was a great opportunity to come to his first East Valley church.
"The first day of the year we honor the mother of God, and it's the World Day of Peace. The title of the church, Queen of Peace, combined those two together," Olmsted said.
Parishioners applauded after a homily that praised Mary and preached peace through forgiveness. Many waited in a long line afterward to greet the new bishop.
Olmsted said during his homily that "not only is this parish named the Queen of Peace, but each one of us are messengers and ambassadors of that peace." He quoted from Pope Paul VI, who in 1968 designated Jan. 1 the World Day of Peace, as well as from Pope John Paul II's New Year's Day message of peace.
"I think it was a beautiful Mass," parishioner Nelda Everi said. "I think the bishop was very eloquent in his speaking and I enjoyed it."
"I think he is the greatest thing to happen to the Phoenix Diocese in many years," parishioner John Szilagy said.
Queen of Peace pastor the Rev. Leonard Walker said the bishop asked to celebrate both the 10 a.m. and noon Masses. Both were bilingual, with English emphasized at the earlier Mass and Spanish at the later one.
"It's quite the honor he chose us," Walker said.
Former Queen of Peace pastor and school principal the Rev. Karl LeClaire was indicted in May on one count each of molestation of a child and sexual conduct with a minor. His indictment was made public June 2 when the Maricopa County Attorney's Office announced an immunity agreement with former Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien. There was no mention of the sexual-abuse scandal during Thursday's Mass.
Olmsted, 56, was appointed bishop by the pope in November and was installed Dec. 20 at Saints Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix. On Christmas morning, the former Diocese of Wichita bishop celebrated Mass with about 50 inmates at Maricopa County's Durango Jail in Phoenix. He later flew to his native Kansas and celebrated his parents' 60th wedding anniversary Dec. 27 before returning to the Valley two days later.
Olmsted replaced O’Brien, who resigned in June after being arrested in connection with fleeing a fatal hit-and-run accident. O'Brien's trial is scheduled for Jan. 12.
Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., served as apostolic administrator until Olmsted was installed.
Olmsted said he next plans to travel north to Prescott, Flagstaff and Mohave County.