Bishop Oscar A.Solis displays his apostolic mandate from Pope Francis during his installation Mass as the bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City on March 7, 2017. (Photo/J.D. Long-Garcia)

SALT LAKE CITY — A large portrait of Bishop Joseph S. Glass hangs in a cozy yellow room on the first floor of the rectory of the Cathedral of the Madeleine. The window overlooks Temple Street, about a half a mile East of Temple Square, headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 

Bishop Glass, the second bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, spent his early years as a Vincentian priest serving in Los Angeles. While serving as rector of St. Vincent, he became close friends with Ethel and Edward L. Doheny. On a table before his portrait lay the vestments for the diocese’s 10th bishop, who also served in Los Angeles — Bishop Oscar A. Solis.

Clergy gathered in the room in a calm, humorous spirit before the March 7 installation Mass of Bishop Solis. Among the group were the diocesan consultors: Msgr. Colin F. Bircumshaw, Msgr. Robert J. Bussen, Father Martin Diaz, Msgr. J. Terrence Fitzgerald, Msgr. Joseph M. Mayo, Msgr. Robert R. Servatius and Father Kenneth L. Vilapando.

“We’re the consultors, but sometimes we’re better known as the insulters,” a consultor quipped.

At one point, the Rev. France Davis of the Calvary Baptist Church found his way into the room. He was tenderly received. Deacon John Kranz, after consulting with a schematic of the cathedral seating arrangements, pointed out where Davis would be sitting, next to ecumenical leaders in a front pew.

Bishop Solis arrived in his usual joyful spirit and greeted everyone individually. He handed a copy of his (once again) revised homily to Father Joseph D. Delka.

“OK,” Bishop Solis kidded, “now it’s perfect.”

The bishop gave a hearty handshake to Msgr. Bircumshaw, who has served as the administrator of the Salt Lake City Diocese since its previous ordinary, Archbishop John C. Wester, was assigned to the Santa Fe Archdiocese more than 20 months ago.

The consultors elected Msgr. Bircumshaw, who had been serving as the vicar general, to lead the diocese in the interim. By all accounts, his 20 months were a great success.

Between smiles and jokes, Bishop Solis appeared to be reflective. He seemed to be praying as he assembled his crosier, removing one piece at a time from the pocketed purple velvet wrap.

He took off his pectoral cross before putting on his alb, then his stole, then his chasuble. Then he put his pectoral cross back on, pausing in silence for a moment with his zucchetto in his hand. He put that on, too, and took a seat in an armchair. Kneeling on the carpet, Francisco Kjolseth of the Salt Lake Tribune took photographs a few feet from the bishop’s elbow.

“OK, last call,” Bishop Solis announced to the room. “Last chance to volunteer to give the homily.”

The group chuckled.

Bishop Solis held up the copy of his homily, complete with scribbled notes. “This is the first time I’ve sweat in Salt Lake City!”

They laughed again.

“We will really miss him!”

The faithful began lining up on the steps before into the Cathedral of the Madeleine more than three hours before the 2 p.m. installation Mass. Though shivering, among the first to arrive were many of Bishop Solis’ friends from the Los Angeles Archdiocese. They had made the trip to Salt Lake City for the installation Mass.

“We will really miss him!” said Sister Cora Tanatao, sacristan at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. “Especially every time we have a special event at the cathedral, especially the Filipinos.”

Sister Cora explained how Bishop Solis always greets everyone he sees when they arrive at the cathedral.

“He is so friendly with us,” she said. “He will be a great gift from God to [the people of Salt Lake City]. He is a mission-minded bishop. He really thinks of everyone, especially the poor.”

The Diocese of Salt Lake City — which covers the entire state of Utah — is home to an estimated 295,000 Catholics, or 10 percent of the population, according to the diocesan directory. More than 60 percent of Utah’s residents are Mormon.

“It will be a big challenge because a lot of people here aren’t Catholic,” Sister Cora said. “But I believe his love for the people will conquer everyone. He has a great love for people everywhere he is sent. He will do wonderful things here.”

Patty Santiago, of the archdiocesan Filipino ministry, added that Bishop Solis gave much joy to all the Filipinos in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. She described Bishop Solis as “friendly and casual,” and said his approachable manner would help him succeed in Salt Lake City.

“I think he’s going to make a difference,” Santiago said. “He will bring more people to the faith.” 

Behind one of the groups from L.A., Bishop Solis’ childhood friend, Pedro de Guzman, waited to enter the cathedral with his wife, Amelia. They traveled to Salt Lake City from Rockford, Illinois — so they are used to the cold. 

Guzman said he could tell Bishop Solis would be a priest when they were both children.

“If there’s one person who can bring it all together, it’s Bishop Solis,” he said. “He is open, and not gung ho. He is very open.” 

Apostolic mandate

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the metropolitan of the Providence of San Francisco, was the presider when the installation began. Salt Lake City is within the San Francisco province, so technically Archbishop Cordileone was responsible for Salt Lake City in between bishops. After the procession, Archbishop Cordileone sat in the cathedra, the chair of the bishop of the diocese. Meanwhile, Bishop Solis sat in a small chair by the altar.

But that changed shortly after the Mass began. 

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, read the apostolic mandate from Pope Francis, appointing Bishop Solis as the bishop of Salt Lake City.

The mandate was then given to Bishop Solis, who walked to the different sides of the altar, holding it up so that the Diocesan College of Consultors and the 1,000 faithful that packed the cathedral to standing-room-only could see it.

Next, Archbishop Cordileone led Bishop Solis to the cathedra. As Bishop Solis took his seat, to raucous applause, he became the bishop of Salt Lake City. Tears filled his eyes as he smiled and gripped his crosier. He closed his eyes, his hands over his pectoral cross, and prayed while the applause continued. 

Bishop Solis, the first Filipino to serve as ordinary of a diocese in the United States, stood again to greet representatives of groups within the diocese. He also greeted ecumenical representatives, such as Rev. Davis, as well as Elder Russell Ballard and Elder Quentin Christofferson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He greeted Salt Lake City Mayor Ben McAdams, too.

“Do you feel the ground moving or is that my knees?” Bishop Solis said as he began his homily. The Cathedral of the Madeleine, erected by Salt Lake City’s first bishop, Lawrence Scanlan, holds around 1,000.

The design reflects much of Bishop Glass’ influence as well. Also, though it had originally been called the Cathedral of St. Mary Magdalene, Bishop Glass renamed it to the French “Madeleine.” The Stations of the Cross are a more modern addition from Utah artist Sam Wilson, though they fit in well with the color interior of Salt Lake City’s mother church.

Bishop Solis seemed to fit in well, too. After some opening humor, he quickly turned to issues facing the diocese and the nation.

“The right of religious freedom is under attack,” Bishop Solis said, “and we are ridiculed for taking a stand on the sanctity of life.”

Human dignity begins “in the mother’s womb,” he said, and includes “the immigrant, the refugee and the resident” as well as those with different sexual orientations. 

“As Scripture tells us, ‘through hospitality to strangers, some have unknowingly entertained angels,’” Bishop Solis said, pledging to work with other faiths “to build a community in which all are welcome, in which we all work toward the common good.”

Bishop Solis also spoke in English, Spanish and Tagalog and acknowledged he was following in the footsteps of great bishops, like San Francisco Archbishop Emeritus George H. Niederauer and Santa Fe Archbishop Wester.

“It is quite frightening to follow these big dogs,” he said. “When I look at them, I can’t help but feel like a little puppy — with a big flock!”

After the congregation stopped laughing, he continued, “Each of us has a different story and a different history. I believe it’s God’s providence that has brought us together.”

Catholics and other Christians can together proclaim “the Gospel of joy,” he said, echoing Pope Francis. The community can come together for a “transformative dialog,” he said, that leads to God.

“I do not claim to have all the answers. I know you waited so long and have put too much high expectations on me,” he said. “Please may I remind you of my name: It is Oscar Solis, not Jesus Christ. I am not a messiah, but just a humble servant.”

Bishop Solis has not been shy to express how much he will miss serving in Los Angeles. But after his homily, he left no doubt of his commitment to his new diocese.

“Utah, here I am. I am totally yours,” he said. “Even with the snow.”

Strong leader

Immediately following the Mass, Bishop Solis stood on the stairs outside the cathedral, greeting and taking photos with everyone. He was in no hurry.

A couple hours later, he greeted and chatted with many of the same people at the reception. The long line moved slowly. 

Pat Bayler, coordinator of special projects with Juan Diego Catholic High School, helped organize students who volunteered during the reception.

“In this culture, it really helps to have a visible and strong leader in the faith,” Bayler said of Bishop Solis, noting that Msgr. Bircumshaw had done a tremendous job in the interim. “We weren’t lost, but we were waiting for a bishop. It’s something we prayed for at school. He’s so easy with the kids, he jokes with them. They need strong role models. He’s worth waiting for.”

Juliana Boerio-Goates, a retired Brigham Young University chemistry professor and a lay ecclesial minister, said she’d been following papal appointments over the last several months.

“The pope has really given us the right person,” she said, noting not only Bishop Solis’ experience in Los Angeles, but also his rural pastoral experience in Louisiana. “I think he will be an excellent fit here.”

Bishop Vicente Reyes ordained Oscar Solis as a priest in 1979 in San Jose City in the Philippines, Bishop Solis’ hometown. He was assigned influential roles in the Cabanatuan Diocese from the beginning of his priestly life. He served as rector of the diocesan high school and college seminary, as the vocation director, as a professor and was a member of the diocesan priests council.

Bishop Solis served for four years as pastor of St. Rocco Church in New Jersey, a parish with a large Italian and Cuban immigrant population. He then served various parishes in the Louisiana Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, including pastor of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Golden Meadow and pastor of St. Joseph Co-Cathedral and St. Luke Church in Thibodaux.

In 2003, Bishop Solis became the first Filipino to be named a bishop in the United States when Pope John Paul II announced his appointment as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. His episcopal ordination on Feb. 10, 2004, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, marked the first time a bishop had been ordained at the cathedral.

Members of Bishop Solis’ family were the gift bearers during the Mass — his sisters Celia Tapia and Maria Socorro (Anggie) Pacubas, and his nephews Paul Tapia and Marc Pacubas.

“He needs lots of prayers,” Anggie said. “It was very moving when he sat in the chair [during the installation Mass]. I said, ‘This is it. We have a new bishop in Salt Lake City.’”

Bishop Solis has a close relationship with his family. Anggie said she speaks with him at least once a week and visits him once a month. When Bishop Solis joined the high school seminary, his family would always visit him, she said. 

Still, Anggie said she didn’t think Bishop Solis would actually be a priest at the time — “He’s too good-looking!”

 His brother, Father Ronald A. Solis, said his older brother was always a good role model for his siblings.

“He helped me finish college, with financial and moral support,” he said. “He manages to care for everyone up to the last detail. He never fails to surprise me.”

Father Solis said Bishop Solis’ family adores him and said he wasn’t surprised the people from Los Angeles traveled to Salt Lake City for the Mass. He also said that those who want to welcome him to Utah don’t need to do anything special.

“He knows how to adapt to people,” Father Solis said. “He knows how to love people. He’s extraordinary.”


Highlights

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