Friday, Mar. 04, 2022
By Marie Mischel
SALT LAKE CITY — March 7 will mark the fifth anniversary of the installation of the Most Rev. Oscar A. Solis as the 10th Bishop of Salt Lake City.
A native of the Philippines, he was ordained a priest in Manila on April 28, 1979, then served four years in the Diocese of Cabanatuan, Philippines. His duties included teaching at Maria Assumpta Seminary, serving as director of vocations for the diocese and as director of campus ministry at Araullo Lyceum.
In 1984, he served as a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J. Then, in 1988, he transferred to the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana, where he served until 2004, when he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles. He was the first Filipino-American bishop ordained in the United States.
In Los Angeles, he served as episcopal vicar for the Office of Ethnic Ministry, director of the archdiocesan Office of Justice and Peace, and episcopal vicar for the San Pedro Pastoral Region.
Bishop Solis also is a member and immediate past chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, and a member of the Catholic Relief Services board of directors.
In his first homily in Utah, during Vespers the night before his installation Mass, Bishop Solis revealed his trademark humor when, after climbing the steps of the ambo in the Cathedral of the Madeleine, he said, “Now I know why they call this the high Rocky Mountains.”
The next day during the installation Mass, he revealed his dedication to his appointment, proclaiming, “Utah, here I am. I am totally yours.”
He also used that homily to address several themes, including the need to be inclusive of the Church’s diverse community in Utah, and said he would like to have a ministry of encounter and dialogue.
“I do not claim to have all the answers. … I am not a messiah, but just a humble servant,” he said. “So, I invite you and encourage you to work with me to create this culture of dialogue and encounter our Holy Father Pope Francis exhorts us. But not just any kind of dialogue, but atransformative one that leads us, together, to God.”
A packed schedule filled his first month as bishop. In the first week alone he presided at a Mass for Utah Catholic Schools’ Professional Educator Day, officiated at the Rite of Election and then all the Sunday Masses at the cathedral. He also attended a luncheon of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable.
As March progressed, he served as grand marshall of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade; blessed The Madeleine Choir School’s renovated Erbin Hall, gave welcoming remarks at three Catholic Foundation of Utah events, and began his schedule of administering the Rite of Confirmation at parishes throughout the diocese. He also presided at various special Masses, such as that for the midyear meeting of the Utah chapter of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the Charismatic Renewal Lenten Family Encounter, and the funeral Mass for Deacon Ricardo Airias. In addition, he offered the welcome at the diocesan Lenten retreat and attended a dinner commemorating the 150th anniversary of Utah’s Episcopal Church.
During his first year, Bishop Solis released a pastoral letter, titled “A Springtime of the New Evangelization,” that called for spiritual renewal in and set priorities for the diocese. He made himself present to local Catholics at events such as the annual conventions of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and the Knights of Columbus, anniversary celebrations at several parishes and the 50th anniversary of the Charismatic Movement, and the diocesan Intercultural Marian Celebration. In keeping with the national efforts of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he instituted the V Encuentro in the diocese. He visited Utah Catholic Schools for events such as May crowning and feast days. Perhaps the highlight of the year was the ordination of Father Stephen Tilley, now pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish.
He also attended less-formal events such as the annual Our Lady of Lourdes [Magna] Spaghetti Dinner and, on two occasions, he served the hungry at St. Vincent de Paul dining hall.
As part of his ecumenical outreach, he joined Bishop Jim Gonia of the Rocky Mountain Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Common Prayer to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and attended an interfaith prayer service to end racism.
In a statement marking Bishop Solis’ five-year anniversary, the Utah Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said his “leadership inspires people of all faiths and continues to make Utah a better place.”
In keeping with his teaching ministry, Bishop Solis wrote numerous messages during his first year, including one for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations and special events such as Christmas and New Year’s.
Having a Filipino bishop means a lot to the local Filipino community, especially to the Catholics, said Marina Fernandez, community coordinator of the Misan Bayan. “For the past five years, we felt that his leadership is reflected in his availability, his advice and presence in most of our Filipino religious and cultural celebrations.”
Jun Enriquez, the Misan Bayan Filipino community secretary, agreed. “Bishop Solis also has shown his sincere support in fostering not only Filipino traditions but also other cultures here in Utah as well,” he said, adding that having a Filipino bishop brings a sense of pride as well as a higher level of responsibility for members of the community to actively participate in each of their respective parishes.
Among the unique events that occurred in 2017 were the visit to Utah of Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, with whom Bishop Solis concelebrated a Mass; and the dedication of the new St. Joseph Catholic Church in Monticello, the construction of which was funded by parishioners Alan and Katie Lund.
Bishop Solis also celebrated the first Mass for the Unborn at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, which has become an annual event.
During the past five years, Bishop Solis has continued to fulfill his episcopal duties. In 2018, he released the five-year Pastoral Plan for the diocese, setting the priorities of faith formation, vocations, stewardship, the Eucharist and Catholic identity, and the dignity of the human person.
In addition, he issued a “Call to Forgiveness, Prayer and Healing” in response to the sexual abuse crisis, among other teaching documents; presented the 2019 Aquinas Lecture at St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center, and celebrated Mass for the Ogden area’s first Divine Mercy event.
His ecumenical efforts have included addressing an interfaith gathering at Brigham Young University, speaking on interfaith efforts at the Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City, serving as the keynote speaker at the Historic Interfaith Tribute at the St. George Tabernacle, and attending the patriotic service that was part of the America’s Freedom Festival at Provo, where Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was the keynote speaker. He also joined other Utah civic and business leaders in re-signing the Utah Compact, which seeks humane treatment of immigrants; and gave the invocation at Governor Spencer Cox’s inauguration.
As bishop, he commissioned 70 lay ecclesial ministers for service in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, ordained five deacons and conferred the Sacrament of Holy Orders on Father Dominic Sternhagen.
One effort that is still ongoing is the diocesan response to the coronavirus pandemic, which at first closed local churches to in-person Masses and Catholic schools to in-person classes. Restrictions gradually have been eased, but Bishop Solis continues to monitor the situation because of changes brought on by covid variants. Throughout the past two years, the bishop has diligently kept the local Church informed of the actions taken to attempt to protect the faithful during the pandemic.
The most recent of his significant undertakings is the introduction of the synodal process, which is an effort to have listening sessions at each parish to gather input from Catholics and non-Catholics alike on how “to inspire people to dream about the Church we are called to be, to make people’s hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission,” as the Vatican preparatory document states.
In the past five years, Bishop Solis has had a positive effect on the diocese, according to people who work with him.
“In my 47 years of priestly experience in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, it seems that the Holy Spirit has always sent us the bishop the diocese truly needed,” said Msgr. Colin F. Bircumshaw, vicar general. “Bishop Solis shares so many of the talents and gifts of his predecessors as a humble shepherd of God’s people who puts their needs before his own. But in a special way, he brought a fresh enthusiasm for helping every Catholic fulfill his or her vocation as a missionary disciple. He brings a wonderful sense of humor and humility to the burden of his office. His vision for the Church is realistic but filled with hope. And, perhaps most importantly, he values and affirms the leaders of the diocese, especially his priests, deacons, religious women and lay ecclesial ministers. It is amazing how he has come to know the diocese so quickly and what he has accomplished in these five short but challenging years.”
Father Kenneth Vialpando, vicar for clergy, said that bishop has united the diocese’s presbyterate through his leadership on the Presbyteral Council, on the Ongoing Formation for Priests Board and in the deanery meetings, “as well as through his pastoral visits to each parish, his personal phone calls to the priests and his open-door policy. Because of his genuine concern regarding the health and well-being of each priest, Bishop Oscar has gone out of his way to be present to the priests, while at the same time challenging the priests to build fraternity with each other by encouraging all of us to attend our annual retreats, convocations, workshops and diocesan events. Three words that describe Bishop Oscar are shepherd, bridge-builder and peace-maker.”
Becky Colombo, president of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, said the members of her organization are thankful for his guidance. In a message to the bishop, she said, “Over these five years, you have supported our council in many ways spiritually, financially, by appointing a new spiritual advisor after our tragic loss of Father Rene [Rodillas, who died unexpectedly of Covid in 2021], and by attending our annual conventions. You were the first bishop from our diocese to attend the National Council of Catholic Women’s Convention to support Pat Voorhes and Amy Kennedy [who were installed as NCCW president and secretary, respectively]. Your sense of humor is engaging and it is enjoyable to spend time with you.”
Likewise, Utah Knights of Columbus State Deputy Nick Neilson said, “Having Bishop Solis in the diocese has been amazing. His charm, sense of humor and support for the Knights and our charitable work has been uplifting, and the fact that he is a 4th degree member of the Knights of Columbus means so much to the Knights. here. He has been an inspiration to us all.”