By Gabriela Smith and originally published in Bayou Catholic
“You have to meet Mario!” My pastor enthusiastically said when I told him about my plans in 2016 to work with Catholic schools. My foundation, Crimsonbridge, had just launched the Education Imperative which supports dioceses, schools and families in actively engaging the Hispanic community and increasing enrollment in Catholic schools. We were searching for guidance and expertise on how to partner with the Archdiocese of Washington (ADW). With such an enthusiastic recommendation, off I went, intrigued and a bit nervous, because “Mario” had just become none other than our new auxiliary bishop.
Known for his warmth and approachability, Bishop Mario Dorsonville is loved by every community he serves. I had first heard about his pastoral work at Our Lady of Lourdes, a local parish here in Maryland, and his dedication and fundraising efforts for Catholic Charities and the Spanish Catholic Center in the nation's capital. I had heard he was a man of deep faith, prayer, and had a warm devotion to Mary. When I met him along with my team, we were struck by his joyful kindness and sense of humor. We asked how we should address him - bishop, father, excellency, Mario - and with what
I like to call his "big laughter,” he said whatever we wanted was welcome. So, we opted for "Bishop," not realizing he was becoming our bishop, and that was the beginning of a transformative work partnership and enduring friendship.
Over the last seven years, my foundation has had the honor of working closely with Bishop Dorsonville, and together with the archdiocese, we have seen the work flourish and continue to expand. Our Education Imperative, which seeks to increase Latino enrollment in Catholic schools to be reflective of the parishes’ increasing diversity, has reached thousands of families. Through our programs, which provide professional development and resources for schools to successfully welcome, enroll and retain Latino students, the ADW has increased Hispanic enrollment from nine to 16 percent, supporting the financial sustainability of Catholic schools, community participation in parochial life, and evangelization. None of this would have been possible without Bishop Dorsonville’s advocacy and the dedicated work of the ADW. In a city famous for networking, Bishop has a unique gift for connecting people. His love of life is contagious and as a result he especially seeks to work with young adults. By organizing homeless outreach missions, annual Christmas carols, and regular dinners, he helps Catholic professionals meet each other over meaningful spiritual formation. The friendships he has formed and helped create are genuine and multi-generational. Here in the Washington area, he's celebrated the weddings of dozens of young Catholics he introduced, baptized their children, and watched them grow up. I can speak firsthand – he introduced my oldest daughter to her husband, who are now expecting their first child!
Something I admire about Bishop is his deep connection with the communities he serves and his enormous heart. As a fellow Hispanic myself, having lived in the U.S. most of my life, I can appreciate his innate connection to the Hispanic community, and understanding of the diversity that exists within that community, which is as varied as the many countries of heritage it represents. He also has a natural openness and respect for what it means to belong to a community. He appreciates the rich diversity that exists in the Nation’s Capital and across the US. No surprise he’s been the head of the office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach at the ADW!
I had the privilege of serving with him on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration and Refugee Services, where he has been the chairman for three years tirelessly working to advance the mission of the Catholic Church. When required by his mission, he can walk the halls of Congress and advocate for the needy with diplomacy, humility, and the authority of a servant leader – selflessly focused on the people he represents. At the same time, he can also walk the streets of Washington in tireless service of the homeless, hungry and marginalized.
Until I met Bishop, I didn’t realize how important it is for religious leaders to mentor and guide those growing in their vocational journey. He cares deeply about the young seminarians discerning their vocation, learning and growing in their call to be disciples. He regularly visits our different Catholic communities, sisters and brothers in religious life, across our more than 160 parishes. He has the heart of a pastor and the wisdom of a shepherd. Bishop Dorsonville teaches by example and finds joy in all circumstances. His moral compass gives him both a local and a global understanding of what it means to be part of one church. So now in March 2023, this is my symbolic friendly handoff of our Bishop. Godspeed, dear Bishop, thank you for your 30 years of faithful service and leadership in the ADW. Your work and example are deeply appreciated and will continue to grow and expand. The friendships you have formed will endure. You will be far but just a prayer away. Friends of Houma Thibodeaux, we are so happy Bishop Dorsonville is being welcomed by such a warm spiritual family. He is a faithful disciple of Christ and a servant leader. We can’t wait to hear about his work, deeds, and new friendships here in his new home!