Nicki Prevou reflects on her friend, Theresa Vann, the Bishop's mom

Nicki Prevou

Editor’s Note: The following reflection was written by Nicki Prevou, a freelance writer for the North Texas Catholic, and a former staff writer for the NTC as well as a very dear, close friend of Mrs. Vann. Theresa Anne Jones Vann, Bishop Kevin Vann's mother, died June 25, in Springfield, Illinois at the age of 83. For Theresa Vann's full obituary go to www.northtexascatholic.org

 Dear Theresa,

Bishop Vann poses with his four brothers and sister behind his seated parents
 Bishop Vann, gathered with his five siblings (L. to R.) David, Dennis, Kevin, Les, Jerry and Mary Therese with their parents, Bill and Theresa Vann in December of 2006

So today, you went to heaven.
We have spoken about this day so many times, you and I. These past few years, as your health declined and you suffered through numerous hospitalizations and endured increasing pain, your thoughts turned, more and more, to the time you would have to say goodbye to your beloved husband, adored children and grandchildren, and to the many, many precious family members and friends who meant the world to you.

“I’m not afraid of death,” you said, during a phone conversation, just a few weeks ago. “I’ve had a long and wonderful life, and God has been so good to me. He blessed me with marvelous family and friends, work that I loved, and He gave me my Catholic faith. No one could ask for more.”

As I look over the notes, letters, e-mails, and photographs that you sent my way over the past seven years, Theresa, I keep thinking of our very first conversation, held by telephone in May of 2005.  I was helping to prepare the guest list associated with the ordination of your son, Monsignor Kevin Vann, of Springfield, Illinois, who was coming to the Diocese of Fort Worth in July to begin his service as coadjutor bishop.

Your warmth and bubbly humor sparked an immediate connection between us: two mothers with a shared determination that the ordination day - set for July 13 - would be as perfect, in terms of hospitality for more than 300 guests from Springfield, as our combined efforts could make it.

“Mrs. Vann, with six children, I’m sure you never worked outside the home, did you?” I asked you during those first few moments of that initial chat. “Oh please, call me Theresa,” you told me. And then you laughed for a while before managing to inform me very gently that you had worked for 53 years as a nurse and as a clinician, teaching and mentoring younger nurses, at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield; you had earned two graduate degrees in nursing; and you were indeed, you gaily assured me, a “career woman,” one whose Catholic faith and identity were at the very heart of her rich and happy family life.

With the help of your highly organized daughter, Mary Therese, you gathered and passed along hundreds of names and addresses. Through weeks of near-daily telephone calls and e-mails, we made intricate plans for airport and train pick-ups, correct spellings on nametags, hotel room assignments, gluten-free and diabetic meals, wheelchair transports, and hair appointments. No detail was too small for your consideration, if it was a detail that meant comfort and inclusion for a guest traveling to the ordination. 

Theresa Vann (Center) is flanked by her beloved cousins (L. to R.) Mary Staley, Rita Whitaker, and Mary Alice Owen.
Mrs. Vann (Center) poses with her beloved cousins (L. to R.) Mary Staley, Rita Whitaker, Bishop Vann's godmother, and Mary Alice Owen.

“My cousins Rita and Mary Alice and their families are so excited to come to Texas for this great day,” you wrote to me. “Rita and Mary Alice are really like my sisters, since they were closer to me in age than my own sister, who was 11 years older than me and went to become a Dominican sister when I was very young. I had the most wonderful parents and sister and cousins. I was a very, very loved child.” We often discussed, Theresa, how the nurturing love you received gave you the ability to lavish devotion and affirmation upon your own husband and children - and your co-workers and students - and your many, many friends. You were an absolutely gifted friend, one who never failed to ask about all family members by name.

You showed up for births, for weddings, for funerals, for laughter-filled gatherings with your neighbors on Douglas Street, where you lived since 1967. You made every person in your life feel treasured. Your interest in others, and your appreciation for any small service they performed for you, is legendary.

I remember being so struck by your gratitude to the waitress, “Mary,” who served your family each morning of your stay at the hotel in Texas, at the time of your son’s ordination. When you returned to Springfield, you wrote a thank you note to Mary, and you also made it a point to write to her supervisor, letting him know of Mary’s excellent service. I know that your son, the bishop, is famous for doing exactly the same kind of thing. He, too, is known for his personal interest in people and their families, for his attention to the small details. Like you, he writes those thank you notes. Like you, he takes care to recognize people’s special anniversaries. Like you, he remembers names. In fact, I believe that all of your children are like you in this lovely way. And, like you, they all enjoy the recounting stories, sharing memories and laughter - lots and lots of laughter.

Oh, the memories you delighted in passing along, Theresa! You were such a gifted storyteller, punctuating most tales with your joyous giggle and sage observations. “I never lived outside this one zip code,” you told me. “And I never learned to drive, even though I did try to learn. It would have made things easier on my poor husband if I had, but he never complained.”

Yes, your husband, “my sweet Bill,” as you called him, truly claimed the center of your large, loving heart. “He was years ahead of his time in helping me with the kids,” you wrote. “He kept everything going in our hectic household, and he is as calm and quiet and patient as I am excited and talkative. My father gave me many wonderful gifts during his lifetime. He really pushed for me to be educated, and a lot of women I knew did not have that kind of encouragement, but the best gift he ever gave to me was my sweet Bill. Bill had been in World War II, and he got out of the Navy and he and my dad worked together for General Mills. I was a student nurse. My dad wanted to know if I could get off of work to go to dinner with this nice young man.”

The nice young man, you wrote, “had beautiful red hair, and I had equally beautiful red hair. I was 20, and he was 23. We took one look at each other and that was it. We met in January, and he asked me on Palm Sunday to be his wife. I agreed almost before he got the sentence out of his mouth!” This past April 15, the two of you celebrated 62 years of an extraordinarily happy marriage, Theresa. “He is certainly my one true love,” you told me a few days after your anniversary. “We built such a happy life together. It was always about faith and family.” I reminded you of something you once told me about the priorities that you and your husband shared. “We were absolutely committed to Catholic education for all of our kids,” you wrote. “Other people we knew were investing in the stock market. From kindergarten through college, we wanted Catholic schools for them. So we invested instead in their upbringing and their education. We never regretted that for a second.”

Thanks in part to that Catholic education, your oldest son’s path in life eventually brought him to Texas in 2005. Of course, he then became the bishop of our diocese, rather than coadjutor, because of Bishop Delaney’s tragic and unexpected death on the eve of the July 13 ordination. Your every thought was for Bishop Delaney’s family, and for the people of the diocese, as we grieved the death of our longtime spiritual leader. After your son became our bishop, you felt a special connection to the people of the diocese. “I pray for all of the wonderful people of North Texas, who have made my Kevin feel so at home,” you wrote. “I’m so glad that Bishop Vann is living in a place where everyone’s hearts seem to be as warm as the climate.”

“I don’t pretend that we did anything in life without God’s help,” you added. “I never forget that all of these many blessings come from above. I look forward to thanking the Blessed Virgin in person one day for helping me to be a good mother. I certainly prayed a lot of rosaries in the middle of the night, asking for her intercession on my behalf.”

And it is with the certainty that you are indeed in heaven today, Theresa, that I tell you “goodbye,” thankful that I had the chance to give you a farewell hug, and to tell you how deeply you impacted my life. I am just one of many hundreds of people who are grieving today, as we contemplate a world without the smiling, exuberant physical presence of Theresa Vann. And yet - how deeply we feel you still with us, hearing your loving, joyful voice in our hearts, as we thank God for the gift of you in our lives.

Copyright © 2012 by North Texas Catholic

Mrs-Vann-button.jpgSo today, you went to heaven.
We have spoken about this day so many times, you and I.

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