Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and his Kansas family will arrive late this afternoon at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for his formal installation Saturday as the fourth bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix since its formation in 1969.
Coming to his newest assignment at the behest of the Vatican, the 30-year priest starts a week before Christmas with the full intent of using the themes of the holiday to lay the foundation for his pastoral mission, one of hope, trust and integrity.
Some 480,000 Catholics get a new shepherd and will look to the 56-year-old, already-tested bishop from Wichita to bring closure to decades of sexual misconduct by priests and focus on issues of growth and serving an expanding Hispanic population.
The diocese that was the dominion of Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien five months ago becomes Olmsted’s following ceremonies 10 a.m. Saturday at Saints Simon and Jude Cathedral, 6351 N. 27th Ave., Phoenix. The 1,200 seats in the cathedral are assigned to invited guests only, but the event will be televised live on KTVK-TV (Channel 3) and in Spanish on Mas Arizona TV (cable Channel 55).
"There is a lot of excitement about the installation, and the biggest hassle is handling all the people who would like to attend," said Monsignor Dale Fushek of Mesa, a vicar general, who began planning the events well before the bishop was named.
When the Vatican announced Olmsted’s appointment Nov. 25, he was an unknown here. But during his brief visit that week, he won marks for his facility with Spanish, his themes of holiness and obedience, and his credentials as a canon lawyer, administrator and for his Vatican-savviness after 16 years of experience in Rome.
The bishop post became abruptly vacant in June when O’Brien resigned after being charged with leaving the scene of a fatal hit-and-run on June 14 in Phoenix. His felony trial is Jan. 12. Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., was appointed as the apostolic administrator and predicted the diocese would get a new bishop by Christmas. Little did the Wichita-born Sheehan know that the new bishop also would come from Wichita.
Olmsted, a one-time Kansas farmboy started his education in a one-room school and capped it by graduating summa cum laude from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome with a doctorate in canon law. He will travel from Wichita today to Phoenix with his 81-year-old mother, Helen Olmsted, who still lives on the family farm near Oketo, Kan. His father, Pat, also 81, is ill and remaining behind. His parents mark their 60th wedding anniversary Dec. 27.
The bishop and his family will take part in a series of dinners and receptions in the coming days, with Olmsted gathering with many of the 300 priests of the diocese Friday night for a special vespers service at Saints Simon and Jude Cathedral.
It is in two rooms of the cathedral’s rectory where the new bishop will live. Because he has few belongings, in keeping with the simplicity of his Catholic priest fraternity, Jesu Caritas, and with a desire to live among fellow priests, Olmsted has informed O’Brien he may remain in the diocesan-owned bishop’s home in north Phoenix for the foreseeable future.