By Tony Gutierrez
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s two seminal teachings on marriage and family, “Into the Breach” and “Complete My Joy,” helped lay the groundwork for Sean and Aryn Sylvester to strengthen their National Church when the world has been quarantined during the COVID -19 pandemic.
“We had this moment where the focus was on family, and we were all trapped in our homes,” Aryn said. “He was already pushing us to strengthen the family, then the COVID arrived. It was a way for us to function in our homes in times of uncertainty.
Since they couldn’t attend mass in person, the Sylvesters had pledged to say a family rosary with their eight children. They also prioritized the family meal, another recommendation from the bishop to strengthen the family.
“It created opportunities for conversation, which created opportunities for conversion, which created opportunities for bringing to light things that needed to be brought to light,” Sean said. “A lot of healings have taken place.”
The family, who attend St. Mary’s Parish in Chandler, have also built a community with their 70-year-old neighbors, whom they described as “adoptive grandparents” to the Sylvester children. Following this invitation, the wife became a Catholic and the husband returned to the Church.
“That’s all Bishop talked about on ‘Complete My Joy’ in terms of the evangelistic component of our faith,” said Sean, who is part of the diaconate training cohort expected to be ordained this year.
In accordance with canon law, Bishop Olmsted tendered his resignation as Ordinary of the Diocese of Phoenix to Pope Francis on January 21 this year, his 75th birthday. Pope Francis formally accepted him with the June 10 appointment of Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego John P. Dolan as his successor. Bishop Dolan will be officially installed as the new Bishop of Phoenix on August 2 of this year.
Mike Phelan, who has served as diocesan director of the Office of Marriage and Respect for Life for the past 17 years, described working alongside Bishop Olmsted in his efforts to strengthen the family as a “complete joy.”
“The domestic Church has always been on our bishop’s mind, and anything that could be done to strengthen marriage, the family, Catholic identity in the family and respect for life is always on the mind. of Bishop Olmsted,” Phelan said.
During Bishop Olmsted’s episcopate, marriage preparation and enrichment programs continued to expand to ensure that couples who marry have a solid foundation. His initiatives include expanding the Office of Natural Family Planning, establishing the John Paul II Body Theology Resource Center, and creating an environment for pro-life obstetrician and gynecologist physicians and counselors. and Catholic marriage and family life therapists who could practice in accordance with the Church. education.
“Our marriage preparation process over the past 13 years has really had a big impact on young couples and encouraged a growing number of communities of young adult married couples that have sprouted in the diocese,” Phelan said. “It is fertile ground for the family.
“The Church must continue to put marriage and the family first, to speak about the Good News of marriage, because they are constantly attacked by the general culture,” he added. “And yet within the diocese there is great support to really live it, and much of that is due to his teaching and his support for intelligent pastoral efforts.”
PFN diocesan coordinator Armida Escárcega said Bishop Olmsted takes seriously his obligation to prepare his flock for the sacraments. The bishop’s understanding of documents like that of Saint Paul VI Humanae Vitae or the theology of the body of Saint John Paul II made her realize the need to convey a fuller expression of NFP, she said.
“Couples don’t have to use the NFP, but they need to know why we believe what we believe about marital relationships, about the gift of parenthood,” Escárcega said. “Bishop saw that it was very important, and he took this leap of faith, that teaching what the Church believes to be true, although it might be seen as a hindrance for couples, was actually going to transform into something good.”
She noted that since the NFP is a requirement, couples were asked to complete anonymous surveys before and after the training. The number of couples planning to use contraception after the training fell from 39% to 14%. The number of couples planning to keep sex for marriage was 42% after training, compared to 88% of couples who had ever been sexually active.
The bishop’s promotion of family life has also led to an increase in vocations, which can be seen directly in the life of Escárcega – his son Harold was ordained a priest on June 4 this year.
“Everything comes from God, but the family helps nurture that. You have to be careful. It’s got to be you who don’t leave it to chance,” she said. “You must remind your children that as baptized people we have a mission. So we say to our own children, you have to seek where God is calling you, and we have to help develop that.
The Right Reverend Paul Sullivan, rector of Nazareth House Seminary and pastor of St. Gregory Parish in Phoenix, made similar observations when he served as vocations director. He remembered the first conversation he had with Bishop Olmsted when the latter asked him to play this role.
“We agreed that ultimately it wasn’t about selling it as if it was a job. They come from families where the gospel is seen and lived,” Fr. Sullivan said. “When the Lord calls someone who has seen the gospel lived, he can follow the invitation.”
Father Sullivan is also the diocesan chaplain for men, a role he assumed after Bishop Olmsted’s enactment of “Into the Breach.”
“As we have seen the men’s conferences remain stable over all these years, we have been able to see a stable relationship with these men and their bishop, and they appreciate that their bishop has taken his own faithfulness and growth to heart. “Sad Sullivan said. “He really got into it.”
The impact of the bishop’s exhortations went beyond the diocese. “Into the Breach” and “Complete My Joy” have been republished by the Knights of Columbus and distributed as part of their “Building the Domestic Church” pamphlet series.
“Bishop Olmsted was just faithfully trying to lead his own flock, and we didn’t expect that to impact places in the world the way he did,” Fr. Sullivan said. “It’s one of those amazing things where Bishop is true to his role and serving his flock, and God used him elsewhere, and that’s just the work of God. Bishop was just faithful; that’s God who multiplied it.
Reflecting on Bishop Olmsted’s masculine spirituality as expressed in ‘Into the Breach’, Fr Sullivan said a big part of that is brotherhood.
“Bishop lived in a priestly brotherhood throughout his priesthood, and many of us priests live in some form of brotherhood, that is, we don’t do it alone,” he said. declared. “We have those who support us, and we support others, and we serve the Lord together. There are certain blessings that come from praying in community with others. We own more deeply what we share.
As part of his efforts to strengthen the family, the Bishop has also supported pro-life ministries and pregnancy resource centers that are able to walk with women and men facing unplanned pregnancies.
“What Bishop Olmsted really conveyed was that every human being matters. The mother who comes to us matters. Her unborn child matters,” said Katie Wing, executive director of First Way Pregnancy Center in Phoenix and parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale.
“One of the criticisms that people in the pro-choice movement say is, ‘All you do is worry about the baby. It’s not true. Of course, we care about the baby, but we also care about the mother and the father. Bishop Olmsted is the very embodiment of this thing.
Wing described the types of services provided by pregnancy resource centers, including counseling women and men on options such as adoption and providing resources for them after the birth of their children. This holistic approach comes from the bishop, Wing said.
“What’s really powerful to me about him is that he really loves,” she said. “He is truly a reflection of the love of Christ. It’s not just that we have a great bishop and he’s wonderful. He truly embodies the love of Christ, and it is a beautiful experience to be in his presence.
Phelan said the bishop is very supportive of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops‘ “Walking with Moms in Need” initiative. Wing added that this support has resulted in greater unity among the pro-life movement in the diocese. Phelan says he is inspired by the bishop’s “childlike enthusiasm” for family and life.
“He never did anything on his own, it’s always about the wonders that God does. He always shared his sense of childlike faith,” Phelan said. “When good things happened, Bishop was very childish in his enthusiasm, and I was always blessed by that.”