SAN DIEGO – Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan of San Diego turned 60 years old on June 8.
But arguably the best birthday present he received this year arrived three days earlier, on Pentecost Sunday, when the papal nuncio called him with some important news: Pope Francis wanted to make him the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix.
“On that feast of Pentecost, I said yes,” Bishop Dolan said during a press conference June 10 in Phoenix. “And now, relying on the breath and strength of the same Holy Spirit who came down upon the Apostles, I ask Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Diocese of Phoenix, to help me to continue to say yes to the Lord as your new bishop.”
A lifelong San Diegan, Bishop Dolan noted that the people of his home diocese “will always have a place in my heart.” Noting the change of scenery from coastal California to the Arizona desert, he acknowledged that he will “have to make some adjustments.” Among them, he joked, he will probably get rid of his coats and take to wearing shorts.
Bishop Dolan has served as auxiliary bishop of San Diego for five years. In Phoenix, he succeeds Bishop Thomas Olmsted, 75, who led that diocese for more than 18 years and has reached the age at which bishops submit their resignations to the pope.
Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the United States and, under Bishop Olmsted’s leadership, had been a growing diocese.
At the press conference, Bishop Olmsted described his successor as “one of the most respected priests of the Diocese of San Diego” and one who “brings with him many years of dedicated service and pastoral leadership.”
Bishop Dolan will be installed as the next bishop of Phoenix in August.
News of Bishop Dolan’s appointment came less than two weeks after the pope’s announcement that San Diego’s bishop, Robert McElroy, would be elevated to a cardinal in late August.
“The Catholic community of Phoenix is receiving a true shepherd of Jesus Christ as their leader,” Cardinal-designate McElroy said in a statement.
“For the Church of San Diego and for me personally, Bishop Dolan’s departure will be a great loss,” he said. “I thank him for all of the sacrifices he has made for our local Church, for the personal talents that have distinguished him in every facet of the ministries he has undertaken and for the enduring priestly identity to which he has constantly witnessed.”
John Dolan was the seventh of nine children born to Gerald and Catherine Dolan. He grew up in the Tecolote Canyon neighborhood of San Diego, which was so heavily populated by Catholics that it was colloquially known as “Catholic Gulch.”
He is a graduate of the School of the Madeleine and the University of San Diego High School.
After discerning a call to the priesthood, he entered St. Francis Seminary and was ordained by San Diego Bishop Leo T. Maher on July 1, 1989, at San Rafael Parish in Rancho Bernardo. He served as associate pastor at St. Michael Parish in Paradise Hills and Santa Sophia Parish in Spring Valley, then as pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Oceanside for five years, St. Rose of Lima in Chula Vista for 12 years, and St. Michael in Poway for two years.
Prior to his appointment as auxiliary bishop on April 19, 2017, he was serving concurrently as diocesan vicar for clergy, a role that involved overseeing the assignments of priests throughout the diocese, and as pastor of St. John the Evangelist and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in San Diego. Following the announcement, he stepped down as pastor and took on the additional role of vicar general for the diocese.
He was consecrated as a bishop on June 8, 2017, his 55th birthday, at St. Therese of Carmel Church in Carmel Valley.
As auxiliary bishop, he demonstrated a passion for mental health ministry. He appointed a new director for the diocese’s Mental Health Ministry Network, celebrated diocesan Masses for survivors of suicide loss, and co-edited two award-winning books about suicide.
The two books — “Responding to Suicide: A Pastoral Handbook for Catholic Leaders” and “When a Loved One Dies by Suicide” — were among the winners in the Association of Catholic Publishers’ 2021 Excellence in Publishing Awards. “Responding to Suicide” was also named the Association of Catholic Publishers’ 2021 “Resource of the Year.”
For Bishop Dolan, the subject of suicide hit close to home: Two siblings and a brother-in-law took their own lives.
At the Phoenix press conference, Bishop Dolan noted that his episcopal motto is the Scriptural verse “Abide in My Love.”
“I’m confident that as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix, I will have joy as long as I abide in His love,” he said, just before taking questions from the media. “So, please, I ask you to pray for me.”