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Fond recollections of ‘Father Oscar’ Solis from his former Louisiana parish

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Bishop Oscar A. Solis (photo/J.D. Long-Garcia)

SALT LAKE CITY — Bishop Oscar A. Solis, who was installed as the 10th bishop of Salt Lake City on March 7, spent 10 years as a priest in Louisiana, where his former parishioners and colleagues have plenty of good things to say about him.

“You guys are very, very, very fortunate. I can’t tell you how fortunate you are” to have Bishop Solis appointed to Utah, said Steve Harris, who was involved in the music ministry at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Thibodaux, where Bishop Solis served as pastor. “He’s just got this unbelievable gift of making everybody he meets feel very special — whether they’re well-to-do or less fortunate, young, old, it really doesn’t matter. The kids followed him around like the Pied Piper.”

The priest became a Harris family friend; the children called him “Uncle Oc,” Harris said.

As pastor, Bishop Solis revitalized the altar server program, Harris said. By 2003, when he was appointed auxiliary bishop to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, many of the altar servers had gone away to college, but “they all came back and put on their altar boy suits and kind of surprised him by being part of that particular going-away Mass,” Harris said.

A musician who plays the piano and guitar, Bishop Solis loves music, Harris said. “On the piano he can play absolutely anything,” while as a guitarist he’s “middle of the road.” 

“He loves to play and sing for all people,” agreed the Very Rev. Vicente DeLa Cruz, J.V., judicial vicar of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, who first met Bishop Solis in 1987, just after Bishop Solis arrived in Louisiana from New Jersey. “When you have a piano at any place, all you have to do is point to it and Oscar will be on top of those keyboards, playing hymns and songs for you all to jump in.”

The bishop also likes to play golf, “but that doesn’t mean he’s good at it,” Msgr. DeLa Cruz said. He also likes good food.

“A meal for him is the big thing, whether it’s a community meal, it’s a family meal, it’s a friendship meal or the Eucharistic meal,” Msgr. DeLa Cruz said, adding that the fellowship of a meal is important in the Filipino culture as a way of building and strengthening the bonds of friendship and community. 

The bishop has “joie de vivre,” or love of life, and he “always believes there is something worth celebrating about each person,” Msgr. DeLa Cruz said. “He has a good way of volunteering you without you knowing about it. He usually approaches you with an idea, and before you know it you’re in charge. I always tell people, ‘When he presents you with an idea, be careful, because you’ll be in charge before the end of the conversation.’”

Humor is another of the bishop’s traits, Msgr. DeLa Cruz said. “We have a saying that laughter between two people is the greatest act of love, and that’s basically how he comes across. … Even if you find him in a very serious meeting or conversation, he will always find a way to make you laugh just to remind yourselves that ‘Hey, we’re doing this out of love. That’s what it’s all about.’”

The two priests worked together to offer input on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2003 pastoral document “Asian and Pacific Presence Harmony in Faith,” which was “the first official statement of the Church in America about the Asian and Pacific presence in the United States,” Msgr. DeLa Cruz said. 

After the publication of the document, Bishop Solis was the youngest of the first three Asian bishops to be named in the United States; the other two were Bishop Dominic Luong, now auxiliary bishop of Orange, and Bishop Ignatius Wang of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Since then, Bishop Solis has worked to create the National Association of Filipino Priests, “the goal of which is to harness all this giftedness, all this richness that we bring into the Church in the United States and to maximize this,” Msgr. DeLa Cruz said. 

Bishop Solis has a talent for drawing out people’s talents for the good of the Church, Msgr. DeLa Cruz said. “He will bring out the best in you and in every person. That is the gift that he will bring to Salt Lake City.”

The Most Rev. Oscar A. Solis was installed as the 10th Bishop of Salt Lake City on March 7. The Mass of Installation was held at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. 

The Solemn Vespers service was held at the Cathedral of the Madeleine the evening before the Installation Mass.

A public reception was held at the Salt Lake City Marriott Downtown at City Creek after the March 7 Mass.

On March 12, Bishop Solis celebrated the 11 a.m. Mass in English and the 3 p.m. in Spanish at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. Those in attendance had the opportunity to greet Bishop Solis following each Mass.