'Thank you' goes two ways at farewell reception in Fort Worth for respected Bishop Kevin Vann

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Jerry Circelli

North Texas Catholic

More than 200 people from throughout the diocese made their way to Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth on Sunday, Nov. 25, to attend the first of three Vespers (evening prayer) services and farewell receptions for Bishop Kevin Vann. After seven years serving the Diocese of Fort Worth, Bishop Vann will be installed as bishop of the Diocese of Orange, California, on Dec. 10. 

The diocesan faithful came to be in the company of the bishop they have grown to admire over the past several years and to say “thank you.”  

Before they had the chance on this evening, however, the bishop would turn the tables and thank the faithful of the diocese for all they have given him.

“I am thankful for all of you,” the bishop told those in attendance at the Vespers service, speaking in both English and Spanish. “When I came here, I didn’t have a lot of confidence. I was homesick and all those sorts of things. When you move as a family, you have that experience. And when you move as a consecrated religious person, you have that experience, too.

“But quickly, through all of you, I learned. Through many experiences, good and challenging, I learned what it meant to be a pastor, in a big way.

“For that I give thanks. Because those experiences come from Almighty God, from our Lord through all of you, in your hearts, in your parishes, in your institutions, and in the missions that we have here. We have so much to be grateful for in the Diocese of Fort Worth.”

Bishop Vann brought a smile to some of the tearful in the audience by telling them that he would often catch himself going back to his home state of Illinois and bragging about Texas and all that we have here. “Not a good thing to do when you go up North,” the bishop said.

“But I was talking about all of you,” said the Bishop. “All of you.”

Bishop Vann has achieved many milestones during his tenure and they have been well documented, from the construction of one of the largest Vietnamese churches in the nation to restoring St. Patrick Cathedral, plus increasing the number of priests and sisters serving local Catholics and the All Things Possible capital campaign that exceeded a $40 million goal by 21 percent.   

The bishop, however, did not reference any of those accomplishments, saying only, “I thank all of you for your patience and what you have taught me. No one can do all of these things alone. It takes all of us working together. And for that, I always give thanks to God.

“I now have a sense of what it means to be a shepherd and it’s because of all of you, and all of our religious … all of our parishioners.

“I give thanks to God for every one of you and what we’ve done together,” Bishop Vann said.

The bishop said he will use the same model he learned from his experience in the Diocese of Fort Worth as he begins his duties in the Diocese of Orange. That model, he said, involves working together as a family with the faithful, religious, clergy, parishes, and the community to accomplish God’s work.

Following the bishop’s remarks and Vespers, the gathering continued in a nearby reception area. There, people lined up to thank Bishop Vann for the way he carried on his work and to express appreciation for his positive influence in the diocese and in their lives.

Marty and Deanna Martinez of Fort Worth were among those waiting to talk with the bishop. They have known Bishop Vann since he first arrived in Fort Worth through their work with the local Serra Club and through various volunteer projects. Marty said the bishop has always gone to great lengths to serve local parishioners. When he and his wife recently renewed their marriage vows after 50 years, they were elated when Bishop Vann agreed to celebrate the Mass.

Deacon Scott France, deacon at Holy Redeemer Church in Aledo, also knows first-hand that Bishop Vann goes the extra mile to connect with local parishioners. He recalled that when the bishop had been in Fort Worth for only a few months, he accompanied Dcn. France and others from Holy Redeemer on a trip to help their sister parish in Honduras. 

“He’s out in the parishes, visible and always in front of us,” said Dcn. France. “He’s at our homes, he’s everywhere. He’s one of us. That’s something that I find to be very comforting -- having someone people know they can talk to instead of someone on a pedestal. He’s a wonderful man. We’re going to miss him.”

Others clergy in attendance echoed similar sentiments, including Deacon Marcelino Carranza from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Fort Worth. He characterized Bishop Vann as a man of humility who connected well with people in his parish. Ray and Maria Sanders, two of those parishioners, agreed. “He’s been an inspiration to so many of us,” Ray said.

The entire Barrigan family of five, including mother, Esperanza, father, Rafael, sons Rafael, Jr., and Jesus, and daughter, Maria, have also been touched by Bishop Vann and lined up to wish him well one last time. They are parishioners at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Fort Worth. “He’s our guide, our pillar of faith,” Esperanza said. Her husband, Rafael, added, “He motivates us to remain strong in our faith. His smile is radiant and his charisma is contagious. He’s proud of his faith.” Daughter, Maria, a student at Nolan, summed it up: “When you see faith and you see faith in action, you see it in Bishop Vann.”

Byanka Peffers, of St. John the Apostle Church in North Richland Hills, agreed. “He’s personable and easy to get to know,” she said. “He can relate to people very well. He’s gifted that way.”  Deacon Juan Reyes, also from St. John, said the bishop’s ability to relate to people at the parish level has led to greater involvement at his church.

“He’s given a lot of support to everyone, including the Spanish-speaking community,” the deacon said. “Our community has grown and support of the bishop has made the difference.”

Sister Mildred Gordon,SHSp, pastoral assistant at St. Stephen Church in Weatherford, came to thank the bishop as well. Like the others, she was impressed that he called her out by name. “He reaches out. And he loves to know your name. He always calls me by my name, no matter how big the crowd is. Even tonight. And he does it in a very appreciative kind of way. He takes pride in knowing you.”

It was that pride in knowing the bishop personally that brought Sister Marguerite Connors, SHSp, back from San Antonio to say farewell. Sr. Marguerite served as superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Fort Worth before retiring in 2004 after 15 years of service. Traveling with five other Holy Spirit Sisters, she said the group came to wish Bishop Vann “Godspeed and blessings. We’re just very grateful for all the work the bishop did here, for moving things forward and for his outreach to the Hispanic communities. We keep in touch.”

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Among the younger well-wishers in attendance was a group of youth from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Keller. They became acquainted with Bishop Vann from youth group activities and altar-serving at special Masses.

“We got to know the bishop well and got to hang out with him,” said Cris Diaz. “He’s great with kids and teenagers.”

Robert Ybarra agreed. “His love for the youth is just amazing.”

“And he’s just super humble,” added Mark Artiles.

Ricky Diaz recalled first meeting the bishop at a youth event in Washington, D.C. “And he remembered my name after we came back to Texas.”

Following two hours of greeting well-wishers of all ages, Bishop Vann glanced around the room, as if to summarize in his mind what he had just witnessed -- the thanks, the gratitude, the genuine wishes and prayers going forward from so many people he has touched.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” the bishop said, taking the conversation back to the wisdom and blessings he gained from the people in the Diocese of Fort Worth. 

One of the greatest gifts he carries forward, he said, is confidence. “I have confidence I don’t think I had when I came here. The Diocese of Orange is a lot like Fort Worth. Mainly the same ethnic groups, but double the Catholic population in less area. I have confidence in how to minister and work with and pray with a lot of different cultures. Growing up in central Illinois, I certainly didn’t have that,” the Bishop said.

In summarizing seven successful years in the diocese, Bishop Vann said, “I just tried to be the bishop and the shepherd the Lord wanted me to be. And the Lord blessed me with all these people and more.”

More than 200 people from throughout the diocese made their way to Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth on Sunday, Nov. 25, to attend the first of three Vespers (evening prayer) services and farewell receptions for Bishop Kevin Vann.