Called to accompany youth and young adults, Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro walks with generations through life

June 29, 2021

San Angelo Bishop Michael J. Sis, far right, served as director and pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University in College Station for nearly 14 years. He brought Bishop Italo Dell’Oro to College Station to help guide college students in their formative years. (Photo by Bishop-Elect Italo Dell'Oro)

HOUSTON — “I know him! We know him!”

This response echoed throughout young adult communities as news spread across the Archdiocese of Bishop-Elect Italo Dell’Oro’s June appointment as the Archdiocese’s newest auxiliary bishop.

This refrain reflected the long-time active ministry of Bishop Dell’Oro, who worked with youth and young adults for decades, leading retreats and communities in the discernment of life and vocation, according to Angie Pometto, director of young adult and campus ministry.

“It’s such an amazing gift for our Church to have a bishop that the young adults feel like they know personally,” Pometto said. “They feel like they know him. It’s a huge, huge blessing. It’s a blessing for our Archdiocese. It’s a blessing for the Church at large, and it’s going to be a blessing for the young adult population as well.”

Inspired by St. Jerome Emiliani, a universal patron of orphans and youth-in-need, the Somascan Fathers, a religious congregation that the bishop-elect is part of, actively minister with parishes and communities with a charism to reach and serve the young in need.

For Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro, this call brought him across borders and into some of the largest Catholic young adult communities in the Gulf Coast.

Bringing peace to chaos

Catie Watso was a busy full-time student at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Juggling academics and extra-curriculars in the world of a big state school, Watso found herself seeking a retreat during the chaos of college.

Refuge came to Watso in the form of a “Busy Student’s Retreat,” a unique program of spirituality and formation around a student’s schedule during the week, rather than the traditional weekend retreat. Watso then encountered then-Father Dell’Oro, who trekked the nearly 300 mile drive across the Sabine River to help with college pastoral needs at LSU’s Christ the King Catholic Student Center.

Watso said she struggled to open up quickly to those she didn’t know well and always hoped to be given a spiritual leader who wasn’t a parish priest she’d see often. She’d rather talk about deeply personal spiritual thoughts and feelings with someone she didn’t know, and Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro happened to meet her that day.

“He didn’t know my history and took me for exactly who I was in that conference room,” she said. “No judgment, no shame, and I thought likely I wouldn’t see him again. I am thankful that he volunteered his time, on more than one occasion, to mentor college students.”

Watso, now advancement director at Houston’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School, said she was thankful for these encounters with the bishop-elect.

“College is hard! For many, myself included, it is the first time you’re truly taking responsibility for your faith journey,” she said.

Faith becomes a choice for college students, and going to Mass, especially on a holy day of obligation, may no longer be a priority in a class schedule.

But “having priests and religious (like Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro) who are visible and willing to meet you where you’re at... helps college students understand that your faith life and your ‘real life’ are not two separate things,” she said. “Your faith life is your real life, and it is possible to live out your vocation and still be able to have fun and let loose.”

Finding the spirit in Aggieland

Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro would also bring his ministries to St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University in College Station.

Before his ordination and appointment as San Angelo’s bishop and ordinary in 2013, Bishop Michael J. Sis spent nearly 14 years in parish and campus ministry as pastor and director at St. Mary’s.

There, Bishop Sis invited Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro to share his vocation and discernment experiences with the Somascan Fathers to St. Mary’s, “a church overflowing with active Catholic college students.”

Bishop Sis said Bishop Dell’Oro went to Aggieland “regularly to celebrate the Eucharist, hear Confessions, and share the treasures of the Catholic faith with the students.”

“His life experience is rooted in a thoroughly Catholic culture in northern Italy,” he said. “His religious community has a special charism for reaching out to young people. His theological training is solid, so he helped our students to navigate difficult life questions with a well-grounded practical wisdom.”

Bishop Sis said he always recognized the “buoyancy” of Christian joy in Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro.

“Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro is easy for people to get to know, and his personal warmth created a sense of genuine welcome for our young adults,” he said. “When the love of God is in a person’s heart, people can see it. Father Italo has always radiated that love. I believe the people of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston will be well served by his ministry as auxiliary bishop.”

Deep calls out to deep

Pometto said Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro’s ministries reflect Pope Francis’s call to accompany the faithful on their journey with Christ, especially youth and young adults, who are making major life choices at the young ages of 18 to 39.

Older adults look back and realize that the decisions made in the 20s really do shape the path of life, she said.

Pometto said today’s new generations struggle with even understanding where to begin with life and relationships, especially in the Church.

She noted his deep involvement with the Encuentros de Promoción Juvenil (EPJ), a Hispanic young adult retreat movement loosely based on the Cursillo model.

In this ministry, Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro “played an integral role,” she said. “He was on these retreats. He was with the young adults. He was there again, walking with them, accompanying them, listening to their stories, journeying with them through the retreat, and by that witness, showing that he wants to journey with them through their lives as well.”

This ministry, even beyond EPJ, is something that the bishop-elect has “led in his life and his witness,” she said. “All of us can just look at our own lives and see if there are people on the fringes, on the peripheries, people within our communities that maybe could use a friend; could use someone to walk with them on the journey.”

Pometto said she was inspired by Bishop-Elect Dell’Oro’s motto on his coat of arms, “Deep calls out to deep.”

Much like the upcoming bishop’s life has shown, “keep following Jesus and keep trusting that when He calls us into the deep, he’s going to equip us and support us the entire way,” she said.

“Jesus himself has already made the plunge,” she said. “He’s in the deep end. There’s no fear. He’s there waiting for us. He’s calling us to join him. He’s calling us to be radical and in following him, to serve him every single day, to lay down our lives for him and not just for him, but with him.”