VATICAN CITY — On Tuesday, the Vatican announced the appointment of Filipino-born Bishop Oscar Solis, currently an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as the new head of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.
Bishop Solis, 63, will fill a more-than-20-month vacancy in Salt Lake City, after the previous bishop, John Charles Wester, was tapped to lead the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in April 2015.
In an interview with L.A. diocesan newspaper Angelus News, Bishop Solis called his new role as the 10th bishop of Salt Lake City “a recognition of the diversity of the Church in America and the universality of the Church.”
“I know what it means to be a pastor, a shepherd of a particular diocese,” he said. “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.”
In 2003, Bishop Solis became the first Filipino to be appointed a bishop in the United States, when he was named as an auxiliary to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by Pope St. John Paul II. He will now be the first Filipino to head a U.S. diocese.
In a statement on the appointment, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez said that “our loss will be a gift to the family of God in Salt Lake City.”
“I know that Bishop Solis will be for them a model of prayer and compassion and a great bishop. And I fully expect that he will become the leading voice for the millions of Filipino Catholics in this country, who are a beautiful sign of growth and renewal in our Church and in our country.”
Bishop Solis was born in San Jose City in the Philippines on Oct. 13, 1953. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Cabanatuan on April 28, 1979.
From 1979 to 1984, he held significant positions within the diocese, including serving as rector of the diocesan high school and college seminary, the vocations director and a professor, as well as having a place on the diocesan priests’ council.
He was sent to Rome in 1984 to pursue doctoral studies in canon law. He also took time to visit family in the U.S., where he carried out some pastoral work, which led him to discern a new direction in his vocation.
“I fell in love with parish life,” Bishop Solis said in the L.A. interview. “I never did parish work in the Philippines.”
“That’s the mystery of God’s grace,” he said. “Just be open and be ready for surprises, because our God is a God of surprises. Just like now!”
Moving to the U.S. in 1984, he served as parochial vicar of a parish in Union City, New Jersey, and later in parishes in Louisiana. In 1992, with permission from the ordinary of his diocese in the Philippines, he was incardinated in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana.
He served there until 2003, when he was appointed titular bishop of Urci and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. As bishop, he served as episcopal vicar for ethnic ministry from 2004 to 2009.
Since 2009, he has been episcopal vicar of the San Pedro Pastoral Region within the Archdiocese of L.A. and also served on the USCCB Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs, first as chairman and later as a member. He speaks English, Tagalog and Spanish.
“I will miss friends and priests and L.A.,” Bishop Solis told Angelus News, “but I know God has something in store for us when he leads us to a new place. I have wonderful priests in Utah and wonderful people. I know we won’t go wrong if we work together as a Church, as a community. God will provide the rest.”
Archbishop Gomez said that he could not be happier for Bishop Solis. “He is a fine priest and a good bishop.”
“I have relied on his good advice and pastoral judgment, and I am inspired by his love and dedication to the people of the San Pedro Pastoral Region and the whole family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. We are all going to miss him greatly.”