Catholic Herald staff
Fr. Ron Olson has encountered saints and sinners in his more than 60 years as a Franciscan friar. Meeting the saints – John Paul II and Mother Teresa, who could be canonized in 2016 – is among the most memorable experiences of his vocation.
A Superior native, Fr. Olson, 82, graduated from Cathedral High School in 1950 and joined the Franciscan order. His first assignment was teaching at a prep school seminary and junior college in the Chicago suburbs; he was ordained a priest in St. Paul in 1958.
“I joined the Franciscans hoping to be a missionary,” he said.
He aspired to travel to Latin America or Africa, but instead answered the call to educate young Americans.
“Oh yeah, I enjoyed it,” he added. “I wasn’t really expecting that, but I got to enjoy all the young people. Interesting times.”
One of his students, Michael Cypher, was from Medford.
“He got to be a missionary, something I was hoping to be, and he went to Central America,” the priest said. “He was murdered. He was martyred, you might say, working for poor people.”
Cypher, also known by his Franciscan name, Fr. Casimir, was stripped, humiliated, tortured and murdered in Honduras in 1975. He is being considered for canonization.
“Of course, that touched me, because I was his teacher and knew him very well,” Fr. Olson added.
He counts his friendship with the 34-year-old martyr among his most blessed.
After teaching in Chicago, Fr. Olson was sent to work in a large Franciscan high school in the Los Angeles area. The Franciscans would later establish a new province in the West, and his next assignment would be one of the greatest experiences of his life.
“I was elected to be the first provincial superior of the new Western province in 1978,” he said. “As a result of that, I had to go to Rome and Assisi.”
In Rome, Fr. Olson met Pope John Paul II for the first time, and they spoke for several minutes. In Assisi, he gave a speech in front of delegates from 100 countries.
“That was very scary for me, and it was very memorable,” he recalls. “Just being part of that whole thing after coming out of little, quiet Superior … that was quite an adjustment, but it was memorable. Very memorable.”
Fr. Olson would meet with John Paul II three more times, as well as Mother Teresa. He traveled around Europe, the Middle East and missionary lands during his tenure as provincial, and then served as rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in Reno, Nevada, during the early 1990s.
As his mother was in poor health, Fr. Olson asked to return to the Diocese of Superior in 1996, where he helped out in parishes for a few years. He was appointed pastor of Holy Assumption in 1999 and has also assisted at St. William, Pattison Park.
“I’ve enjoyed it very much,” he said of 16 years at Holy Assumption, his longest assignment. “The people have always been very supportive and welcoming.”
The priest had five or six good years with his mother before she passed away, and he still sees old friends and family in the area, “so this is really home.”
Fr. Olson officially retired May 24, Pentecost Sunday, but he didn’t travel far. He plans to continue living at the Holy Assumption rectory and celebrating Masses as needed.
Fr. Andrew Ricci, rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, will become parochial administrator of the parish, while remaining as cathedral rector.
“I will be retiring here, but of service when needed,” Fr. Olson added.
Parishioners, fellow priests and friends celebrated his retirement May 24 with an afternoon Mass followed by dinner.