By Tanya Connor
A man who cantored in a Worcester parish as a youth and recently helped start his own young adult ministry at another parish here was ordained a priest for the Boston Archdiocese last month. He’d spent years with the Jesuits, whom he met at the College of the Holy Cross.
Father Thomas Majors Olson was one of nine men Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley ordained May 21 at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. Father Olson celebrated his first Mass the next day – his 36th birthday – at St. Columbkille Parish in Brighton, where his vocation turned in a new direction.
“We’re very proud of him for his perseverance,” said his father, Thomas R. Olson, who was guidance counselor, then principal, of St. Mary Junior/Senior High School in Worcester several years ago.
Father Olson’s mother is Marsha Olson. He said the family lived in Boylston, where they attended St. Mary of the Hills Parish. His parents made it clear that they expected him and his two younger brothers, Adam and Timothy, to go to Mass.
“Begrudgingly, I went,” Father Olson said.
That changed after they moved to Rutland and his love of music led to his cantoring and playing the guitar at St. George Parish in Worcester, he said.
“The Holy Spirit kind of worked through the music to draw me closer to the Church,” he said of his teenage years. But he had no desire to be a priest.
“During those years I never attended parochial school, so really my exposure to priests and exposure to the Church was only on weekends,” he said.
For college he really wanted to go to a Catholic school, though he didn’t consider himself overly religious, he said. But he wanted to continue his involvement with the faith, so he went to Holy Cross. There he got to know priests in the Society of Jesus, commonly called Jesuits.
“Before I met Jesuits, I thought priests led boring lives,” celebrating Mass on weekends, Father Olson said. He found Jesuits were involved in much more, including academics.
Sometimes he thought briefly about being a priest, but pushed the thoughts away, he said. He wanted to be a husband, a father and an attorney, perhaps run for political office, and retire “healthy, wealthy and wise.”
He majored in political science (he loves politics as much as music), graduated in 2002, and could have gone on to law school, he said. But he took his father’s advice and went to work first – selling information technology to businesses.
“I loved sales,” Father Olson said. “I liked meeting new people and selling ideas” to sell products. People told him he could sell snow to Eskimos and sand to Arabs.
But, he said, “at the end of the day I would come home … kind of feeling empty. … The something missing was this burgeoning call to the priesthood.”
The Holy Spirit was drawing him, and he talked with Jesuits at Holy Cross, he said. In 2004 he entered the Jesuit novitiate.
The formation he received from the Jesuits was “absolutely invaluable” to who he is as a priest, because of its length and thoroughness, he said. It included a master’s in philosophy from St. Louis University and a master’s of divinity from Boston College.
He was also development director for the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He said he did fundraising around the United States to support the Jesuits’ programs for the Lakota people there, who are very poor, and is especially proud of helping open a Nativity School there.
“I loved the job of fundraising, meeting people of significant means, who were and are generous,” and connecting them with the poorest of the poor, he said.
Another assignment as a Jesuit was assisting at St. Columbkille. There he saw that “the heart of the Church beats in the parish,” he said.
He decided he could better live his vocation by being a parish priest. As he was in the Boston Archdiocese, he started there. He said the Jesuits and Cardinal O’Malley worked together to make it happen, and he went to Pope St. John XXIII Seminary in Weston to complete his formation.
Now he’s parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Bridgewater, and chaplain at St. Basil Chapel and the Catholic Center at Bridgewater State University, he said. He’s looking forward to bringing to this ministry the principles of the Young Adult Commission which he developed at St. Columbkille’s.
He said he helped start YAC at St. John Parish in Worcester with the pastor, Father John F. Madden, and is working on it in parishes in the Springfield and Fall River dioceses. He would like other parishes to adopt it too.
Explaining YAC’s principles, Father Olson said the pastor needs to support the commission financially and be part of it. It is important to get young adults involved in what’s offered for them and in leading the spiritual, service and social committees. They need to feel listened to, and in charge, to a certain degree, and to find the faith relevant to them, he said. It is also important to hold events for them consistently, even if some are poorly attended, he said. Building community and getting to know one another is important to them.