Last month, Catholic Bishop Oscar Solis took a tour of Westminster College’s campus, which has Presbyterian roots, alongside Steve Morgan, the school’s first president who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — a coming together of multiple religious backgrounds.
Solis is a trailblazer: he was the first Filipino-American bishop ordained in the United States and was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City by Pope Francis last January. He came to Westminster in December after receiving a personal invitation from Morgan and Dirk van Klaveren, a Westminster alumni who also serves on the Catholic Foundation of Utah board of trustees.
“They said there’s something special [at Westminster], and they were true; they didn’t lie,” Solis said. “I was impressed about the community mindedness or spirit of this student population. Everybody seems to know each other — very friendly. Even though it’s [exam] time, everybody is smiling still.”
The bishop’s visit began with a meeting in Morgan’s office, where the two said they discussed academics, politics, interfaith issues, the college’s relationships with faith groups in the community and its commitment to service.
“We started to talk about the Dumke Center for Civic Engagement and some of the work we’re doing in South Salt Lake,” Morgan said. “We come to find out that some of our students have been working at St. Ann’s, which is one of [the local Catholic] schools.”
Also at the meeting was Westminster’s director of spiritual life, Jan Saeed, who sits on Utah’s Interfaith Round Table with Solis and helps organize a weekly after-school program at Kearns-St. Ann Catholic School, where Westminster students mentor middle schoolers.
Following the meeting, the group took a tour of campus, which culminated in a visit to the Shaw Student Center. There, Bishop Solis met with Catholic students and staff members from St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Newman Center at the University of Utah.
Fr. Lukasz Misko, OP, the director of campus ministry at St. Catherine’s, said he organized the gathering to help connect Catholic students to the larger church.
“There’s this kind of connection that transcends our location but also transcends time,” Misko said. “We’re meeting with someone who connects us with this universal church. And I think for the students […] to experience this global connection is really crucial.”
Jack Maddox, a junior physics major at Westminster, said it was a “pleasure” to meet the highest ranking member of the Catholic Church in Utah.
Morgan and Saeed said they have extended an invitation for Solis to come back to campus and speak as part of the new Global Peace and Spiritual Life Lecture Series.
“One of the points that [Solis] made is that we need to be looking more at what are our commonalities,” Saeed said. “We have all these labels and identities that make us different. And they should be appreciated, but there’s an awful lot that we have in common and I think that approach to where we are in the world would be very important to be heard.”
Solis said he is open to the idea because it would allow him to further connect with younger generations. The event could happen as early as this spring but most likely would take place in the fall, Morgan said.
*The Forum reporter Stephanie Held is a member of the Catholic faith.