Phoenix bishop opens up about family history, details new mental health ministry

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix is creating a mental health ministry
Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 6:12 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Amid a rise in suicides and increased rates of depression, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix is creating a mental health ministry. It’s likely the first time a diocese has done this.

Bishop John Dolan said his brother has long suffered from a mental health illness. He also lost a brother and sister to suicide. So he believes there’s a need out there and wants to help. “In the ‘70s, nobody talked about suicide,” Bishop Dolan said.

He explained that he was in the 8th grade when his older brother, Tom, took his own life. “You just bury it; you just walk with it,” he said.

Then years later, while he was in Seminary, his sister, Therese, died by suicide. He said when her husband learned about her death, he too killed himself. “The church was there in the initial way. It didn’t offer — it didn’t have a systematic program to continue to tend to our needs,” Bishop Dolan said.

He wants to change that. But, he admits it took a long time, a lot of reflection, research and counseling for him to come to terms with all of it.

During his work in San Diego, he met others facing similar challenges. It’s why he’s starting the mental health ministry in the Diocese of Phoenix. “We’re not here to diagnose or to prescribe or even to treat. We’re just here to accompany and let people know they’re loved. So the whole process is about love, it’s not about treatment,” he explained.

As part of it, priests and deacons will receive additional training. In addition, at least 15 churches in the Diocese will also offer support groups.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix held its first ever Mass of Remembrance for those who died by suicide earlier this month. They planned to read the names, which quickly went from a hundred to more than a thousand. “Just because they showed elements of disorders that they weren’t going to be forgotten,” Bishop Dolan said.

He hopes by sharing his story, he can encourage others. “I’ve now been able to let people know hey, a bishop, a Catholic bishop, has had to navigate through family disorder,” he said.

The Diocese plans to hold the ribbon cutting for the new office in December. It’s expected to open in January.