Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s remarks for the groundbreaking of St. John Paul II Catholic High School:
Jan. 27, 2017
When John Paul II became the first non-Italian to serve as pope in hundreds of years, he came to the papal ministry with a firm conviction that young people have a pivotal role in the life and mission of the Church.
In his very first homily on the day that he began to serve as pope, he spoke three words that electrified the hundreds of thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square, “Be not afraid.” His words were directed to people of all ages and all nations, to the powerful and the weak, to leaders of countries and to migrants and refugees. They breathed new hope into the hearts and souls of many; and found particular resonance among the youth. He repeated the words several times, saying: “Be not afraid to welcome Christ and accept His power… Be not afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.”
On this historic day in the Diocese of Phoenix, and especially in this far west area of the valley of the sun, we face a great challenge but an even greater opportunity. This new high school will serve teens and their parents, parishes and entire communities—Catholic and beyond. It will make Catholic education at the secondary level much more accessible in one of the fastest growing regions of Arizona. More importantly, it will equip our young people to fulfill their irreplaceable role in the Church and in the world.
As we were studying this new initiative, weighing all the pros and cons, and taking stock of all the sacrifices that would be needed to launch a new high school, one of our Catholic School Board members said with simplicity but conviction, words to this effect: “If we do not build a Catholic high school in the far west valley, if we do not take on this challenge together, can we honestly say that we believe in our young people, that we believe in the future of Catholic education, that we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit at work now in His Church and in the hearts of our people?
As a young man, who suffered the death of his mother while still a child, just three weeks before his First Holy Communion, and then lost his only brother when he was 12 years of age, and then lost his father when he was 19, the future John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla, could have become an angry, embittered young man, but with the grace of God, he chose another path, the path of faith and love. He believed in Jesus’ words, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit (Jn 15:16).” On the basis of his own experience, as a young man and then as a priest and bishop, St John Paul II was convinced that God plants in the hearts of young people a “quest for pure love.” Whoever takes up this quest begins to travel down the road of heroic virtue, a road that is accessible to all, not reserved just for a few. Already as a little child, Karol Wojtyla discovered a love that was embodied in the tenderness of his mother and the protective care of his father, but that reached far beyond his Polish home in Wadowice, a love that would carry him, one day, to nearly every country in the world as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, a servant of the servants of God.
In his first encyclical, he wrote: “…man cannot live without love. He remains …incomprehensible to himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own.”
A Catholic school exists to provide the gift of a Christ-centered education, where the love of God is alive and the pursuit of goodness, truth and beauty is assisted by every dimension of the institution, especially its faculty and students.
Almost no one expected Karol Wojtyla from Poland to be elected pope in October 1978. All the pundits and talking heads overlooked this man from behind the Iron Curtain. His name was not among the “papabile” suggested by experts outside or inside the Church. But God’s ways are not man’s ways; they are far better and far more wrapped in the mystery of love. Pope Saint John Paul II liked to say, “There is no such thing as coincidence.” We may not understand why the Lord does what He does but we can be sure that all things unfold under his providential love. We praise God that He entrusted such great responsibilities to the patron of this new high school, and that he responded with such heroic love. With the help of his prayers and the grace of God, let us work together to build not only a beautiful building but a school community that will give glory and honor to God, where each person who enters here will trust those words, “Be not afraid.”