Solis makes history as first Filipino to lead large Catholic congregation
Pope Francis chose Oscar Solis to become the next bishop of the diocese of Salt Lake City on Tuesday, January 10, making him the first Filipino-American clergyman to lead such a large congregation of American Catholics.
Solis will serve a community of about 300,000 people in his latest role, according to Angelus News. The former auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has worked as a priest in both the U.S. and the Philippines for the better part of four decades.
“I know what it means to be a pastor, a shepherd of a particular diocese,” Solis told reporters during a press conference announcing his appointment in Salt Lake City, Utah on Tuesday. “It is a tremendous blessing and a responsibility and a privilege to be of service to the local Church in the United States of America, coming from the Philippines.”
He was surprised to learn of the appointment, according to Deseret News and other sources. He reportedly called himself a “fool” for thinking he would spend the remainder of his career in Los Angeles.
Clergymen who have worked with Solis described him as humble, organized, and approachable. He is also known for his sharp sense of humor and work as a supporter of minority communities in the Church.
“He is well loved in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” Father Albert Avenido, who currently serves under Solis in the San Pedro Pastoral District, told the Asian Journal during a phone interview on Tuesday. “We will be missing a great man of God. We will be missing a great pastor, and a great friend…”
In 2004, Solis became the first Filipino American to be ordained a bishop in the United States and moved from Thibodaux, Louisiana to Los Angeles, a city which boasts the country’s largest population of Filipino Catholics. There, he worked as vicar for ethnic ministry and displayed a talent for building relationships between diverse members of the community, according to Avenido.
He was later promoted to auxiliary bishop of the San Pedro Pastoral District in 2009. For the past seven years, Solis has been responsible for overseeing 67 parishes and eight Catholic high schools in Los Angeles and Long Beach. He has also been the episcopal advisor for the National Association of Filipino Priests since 2011.
“Our loss will be a gift to the family of God in Salt Lake City,” Archbishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez told Angelus News on Tuesday. He went on to say that “I fully expect that [Solis] will become the leading voice for the millions of Filipino Catholics in this country.”
Solis began serving as a priest in his hometown of San Jose City in the province of Nueva Ecija, Philippines after he was ordained by Bishop Vicente Reyes in 1979, according to Vatican Radio.
After traveling to Rome in 1984 to earn a doctorate in canon law, Solis emigrated to the United States and worked as a parochial vicar for the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey until 1988.
He then relocated to Thibodaux where he worked in four different parishes over the course of 15 years, according to various sources. In 2003, Solis was considering taking a sabbatical and eventually retiring in Louisiana before learning that he was a candidate for the position of auxiliary bishop on the West Coast.
“I will miss friends and priests and LA, but I know God has something in store for us when he leads us to a new place,” Solis told Angelus News on Tuesday.
He will be officially installed as Salt Lake City’s Bishop during a ceremony at the Cathedral of the Madeline on Tuesday, March 7.
Avenido said that Solis’s experience as a community builder made him an excellent choice to lead and represent Utah’s Catholic community.
During Tuesday’s press event, Solis said he looked forward to working for all of the faithful in his new diocese and continuing interfaith cooperation with the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (LDS). Representatives of the Mormon community, as well as Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski have issued statements welcoming Solis’s appointment.
“We look forward to building a friendship and partnership with Bishop Solis as we work together to serve the people of Utah. Mabuhay, Bishop Solis!” wrote LDS Church officials on Tuesday.