Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted dedicated a new playground Thursday — but it was the health of Pope John Paul II that absorbed his thoughts as he sprinkled holy water and blessed the play area at Christ the King Catholic Church and school, 1551 E. Dana Ave., in Mesa.
Olmsted, who had worked for the pontiff for 9 1 /2 years during the 1970s and 1980s, asked the 255 children, faculty and parish members at the school to pray anew for the 84-year-old pope who suffered a relapse of influenza that first sidelined him Feb. 1 and led to his rehospitalization Thursday in Rome.
"The Holy Father is very dear to me personally," Olmsted said. "Anytime something happens to him, like sickness, we are very moved."
As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, Christ the King school dedicated a new modern playground with ladders, bridges and slides for younger children and a fitness circuit, with leg-lift, chinup and horizontal bars, sit-up station and balance beams for older children.
The brightly colored equipment, under a broad canvas canopy, came via a $96,535 grant from the E.L. Wiegand Foundation of Reno, Nev., which also paid for 30 laptop computers, software and printers, to meet the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix’s goals to integrate technology fully into classrooms, said Mendy Bayda, the school’s facilitator of development.
Olmsted prayed that the playground "will contribute to leisure activities that renew the spirit and strengthen mind and body."
"I really like the monkey bars," said David Nagengast, 11.
"I like how it was all put together for the little kids and the older kids," said Zac Valarde, 12.
For Nicole Malkou, 11, "it was very cool" for the bishop to come to her school. "I had never seen him before, so I am very excited."