Farewell Bishop Vann, from your friends in Wichita Falls

Jacqueline Burkepile


North Texas Catholic

Father Sojan George, HGN, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Wichita Falls, poses for a picture with Bishop Kevin Vann at Bishop Vann's farewell reception held in Wichita Falls.(Photo by Juan Guajardo/NTC)

Catholic faithful from the northwest portion of the Diocese of Fort Worth gathered Monday, Nov. 26 for Vespers and a farewell reception honoring Bishop Kevin Vann at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Wichita Falls. The night began with the Liturgy of the Hours, followed by a simple reception with cookies, cake, and punch for those in attendance to say their final good-byes to the bishop.

Emotions were high as many expressed gratitude, sadness, and excitement for Bishop Vann’s designation as bishop of the Diocese of Orange, California.

James Phillips, a parishioner at St. Jude Thaddeus in Burkburnett, took part in the Vespers procession as a Knight of Columbus in the Fourth Degree Honor Guard. He said Bishop Vann was a friend and a great shepherd for the diocese.

“You can’t keep a good guy down. It was obvious that he would go on to bigger and better things,” said Phillips. “He really helped us at St. Jude. We did a renovation there, and he helped us to take care of it financially, and he’s always sent us a priest. So we’re very happy to have him, and we’ll hate to see him leave.”

Nan Ruddy, a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Wichita Falls as well as others attending the reception, said Bishop Vann has a gift for remembering names.

“Since our previous bishop [Bishop Joseph Delaney] was so ill for so long, it’s been really nice to have him come around and visit in your parish and get to know you personally,” said Ruddy. “He’s met you one time and he knows your name.”

Margarita Luna, a parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Wichita Falls and the pastoral associate for St. Mary Parish in Henrietta, also said Bishop Vann  has known her by name since they met during his first year in the Diocese of Fort Worth. He’s remembered her ever since she asked him for his favorite Hispanic food.

“He calls me by name every time he sees me anywhere: ‘Margarita!’” said Luna. “That feels good — that a bishop with as many parishioners and parishes as he has can identify me in his flock by name.”

Others continued to convey their thoughts about the Bishop’s influence and his new assignment. Tom Ruddy, parishioner at Sacred Heart and husband of Nan Ruddy, wished Bishop Vann luck and said he would pray for him.

Alluding to Bishop Delaney’s long illness, Ruddy expressed appreciation for Bishop Vann’s contributions to the life of the diocese. “He came with a lot of energy and gusto to get everybody back going — lots of programs for the parishes to inspire them to work harder together,” said Ruddy. “It will be a tremendous loss, but a tremendous gain for wherever he’s going.”

Victor Kocks, parishioner and chairman of the finance committee at Sacred Heart in Wichita Falls, said, “He’s done so many great things for our diocese. It was quite a shock [to learn of his new position]. We’re disappointed he’s leaving, but I know he’ll do a great job anywhere he goes.”

Kocks added that many of Sacred Heart’s programs are funded by the diocese. He said programs for seminarians, married couples, and the youth were made possible by Bishop Vann.

“Those are all things that impact a parish in a big way,” said Kocks. “That’s a big part of why I was impressed by the bishop.”

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Carol Berzina, a parishioner Our Lady Queen of Peace, said California needs someone like Bishop Vann. “He’s done an amazing job unifying all the parishes with fund drives, his prayers, and his leadership. I just have to say that he’s just done a wonderful job of helping us become a close family.”

Father Sojan George, pastor at Our Lady Queen of Peace, headed the organization of the event. He said the bishop is a good friend and was not surprised to hear the news of his departure. Fr. George plans to attend Bishop Vann’s installation as Bishop of the Diocese of Orange on Dec. 10.

“This is something we all figured would happen one day,” he said. “Every time an archdiocese came open, there was a rumor that he was leaving, but we didn’t expect him to go to Orange County.”

Father Richard Kirkham, pastor at St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in Burkburnett, ordained a priest in the Fort Worth Diocese last year, said he is sad that the Bishop is leaving, but proud of his new appointment. He said Bishop Vann was very supportive of him over the years.

“He influenced me with his words of affirmation, from my formation in seminary and formation as a priest,” said Fr. Kirkham. “I always felt respected and supported by him, and that he was truly concerned with what I shared with him.”

Dan Shine, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Peace, said God has great plans for Bishop Vann in the future, but is also sad he is leaving.

“I really regret it, but in my opinion, he’s headed for better things,” said Shine. “To stay here eight years is wonderful, but there’s a reason the pope moved him. I wouldn’t doubt seeing him being appointed a cardinal someday.”

Fe Lee, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Peace, wished Bishop Vann well and enthusiastically asked him to send pictures from Disneyland.

“Good luck, and God bless you on your next mission,” said Lee. “I hope that he’ll come visit us every once in a while when he gets that opportunity.”

Bishop Vann stated in his bilingual homily on Monday that he is grateful for the past seven years as bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

“We go always forward in confidence in what the Lord has done for us,” said Bishop Vann. “We can’t look back, we look ahead.”

As he spoke of looking to the future, he said, “I know, I can do that with confidence, joy, and above all, faith, because of you all and because of the people of the Diocese of Fort Worth.”

Catholics faithful from the northwest portion of the Diocese of Fort Worth gathered Monday for Vespers and a farewell reception honoring Bishop Kevin Vann at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Wichita Falls.