Father Mike is passionate about many topics, but social justice probably tops the list.
Father Michael ("Mike") Olsen celebrates his final Holy Eucharist at St. James Episcopal Church on Sunday (March 3) at 9:15 a.m. By Taos standards he's a relative newcomer, arriving only in 2013. But a prevailing sentiment rings loudly like a church bell: Father Mike has made a big impact on the community in terms of outreach and personal involvement. The jovial priest, well-known for his sense of humor, is retiring to take care of his wife, Sandy. They have been married for 53 years and her Parkinson's disease is progressing.
What does Sandy say about his retiring? "Oh my God, he's going to be home all the time!" she said via email. To those who know the couple, Sandy's wisecrack is a great example of their shared sense of humor.
Father Mike is passionate about many topics, but social justice probably tops the list. From the active St. James Food Pantry to the Rector's Discretionary Fund for financial assistance, the former army pilot works on the front lines for those in need.
"I spent almost 30 years in the army. I flew medical evacuations in Vietnam on two different tours. To see the horror that men can do to each other, to see the results of that in the back of my helicopter - that certainly had a major influence on the rest of my life," said Olsen. He began military service as a private and rose through the ranks to retire as a colonel.
After retiring from the army, Olsen worked as a program director for NASA for about a decade. "I like to be around people who like airplanes and balloons and things that go up," he said.
In that spirit, Olsen pursues his love of flight in Taos. Notably, he is one of the tireless volunteers who help stage the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally Association every year. He serves as chaplain with the Civil Air Patrol and even flies with them as a search and rescue pilot.
Olsen has had a deep impact at St. James, the Spanish Pueblo mission-style church on Camino de Santiago that was built in 1960 on land donated by the Weimer family. Gwenneth Glenn, office manager at the church since 2009, talked about his influence recently.
"Matthew 25 is our theme song. Father Mike gave us that," Glenn said referring to the scripture that reads as a teaching from Jesus: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."
Anchored within community, Olsen serves in other ways -- such as being the chaplain at Holy Cross Medical Center, hosting a Peace Chanukah at St. James and signing a building lease for Common Grounds, the teen co-op and café.
"He's doing it through his commitment to Christ and he's opening up that love to any person regardless of their faith and beliefs," said Jill Cline, youth minister at St. James.
Marilyn Farrow ran the St. James Food Pantry for 15 years. She said a good priest is someone who lives what they're teaching. "Father Mike lives a broader life of caring, giving and sharing."
Even though priesthood is his third career, Olsen has always led a life of spiritual inclination, teaching and studying religious education. He would eventually be confirmed as an Episcopal priest.
Oddly enough, it was a connection from Olsen's NASA days that brought him to Taos as a religious leader.
Don Simanton had worked closely with Olsen on NASA projects and had a good grasp of his administration skills. Back in 2012 when St. James was looking for a new priest, Simanton wrote to Olsen about the opportunity. "I will admit to doing a little arm-twisting, but not much."
The Olsens are planning on staying in Taos. Father Mike credits Sandy's two "wonderful" caregivers - Lillian Espinoza and Delfina Delozier - with that decision.
"They both love Sandy and she loves them. I couldn't imagine trying to reestablish that kind of support someplace else," he said.
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