Bishop John Dolan speaks with a nun after his ordination in 2017. Photo by Chris Stone

Pope Francis announced Friday that he has named Bishop John Dolan, auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, as the new bishop of Phoenix — a “seismic shift” according to one theologian.

“My heart is filled with joy on this day as Pope Francis appoints me to serve as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix,” Dolan said in a statement. “I cannot begin to express my thanks to God for his goodness to me throughout my life and I enter this new chapter with a renewed commitment to love and serve the Lord and His Church with my whole heart, soul, and strength.

Besides thanking God and his family and fellow priests and parishioners, Dolan said he was particularly grateful to Cardinal-designate Robert McElroy of San Diego and Auxiliary Bishop Ramon Bejarano.

“Finally, I am truly grateful to God for Bishop Thomas Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares who have warmly welcomed me to the Diocese of Phoenix. Please pray for all three of us as we journey together on mission in Christ!”

In his own statement, McElroy said: “I rejoice in the Holy Father’s appointment of Bishop John Dolan as Bishop of Phoenix. He is a man of deep faith, pastoral wisdom and enormous energy.  In addition, there is a profound joy in his soul that reflects the grace of God and the wonderful love of his parents and family.”

Dolan, a Spanish speaker, will succeed Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, whose resignation was accepted effective Friday, after turning 75, the usual age of retirement for bishops.

Dolan’s appointment would signal a change in ideology for the Arizona diocese.

Olmsted has garnered a reputation as a staunch theological and political conservative, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

In recent years, Olmsted has headlined the conservative-run National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, backed calls for pro-choice Catholic politicians to not receive Communion and supported religious-based exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccines, despite the Vatican and Francis’ support for those vaccines, the Reporter said. 

As an auxiliary bishop, Dolan has been an advocate of migrants and has done pastoral work with LGBTQ Catholics. He served at St. John the Evangelist parish in Hillcrest, where he said he was “profoundly moved by members of that community.”

Dolan also served as a spiritual advisor to the Lost Boys of Sudan and other refugees.

At a news conference in Phoenix, Dolan spoke against “drawing a line in the sand.” 

“I’m really a person who likes to dialogue rather than shut things down,” he said. “I think we are a better church when we have an open heart.”

Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the nation and the Diocese of Phoenix serves 1.2 million Catholics.

Dolan, 60, was named auxiliary bishop of San Diego in April 2017 after he had been the pastor of six parishes within the diocese. He was ordained a priest of the diocese in July 1989 by Bishop Leo T. Maher.

He began as an associate pastor at St. Michael’s parish in Paradise Hills before serving at Santa Sophia in Spring Valley, St. Rose of Lima in Chula Vista, St. Mary Star of the Sea in Oceanside and at St. Michael’s parish in Poway, St. John the Evangelist and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in Hillcrest and Mission Hills.

He is the seventh of nine children in his family, born to Catherine and Gerald Dolan.

“For the Church of San Diego and for me personally, Bishop Dolan’s departure will be a great loss, McElroy said.

Dolan, a native of San Diego, joked in a Phoenix press conference that he would have to get rid of his coats and wear shorts.

“Happily, I like the desert,” he said.