Louis Hannegan, Managing Editor
When Bishop Kevin Vann moves to California in December to take over the Diocese of Orange in San Diego, he will take with him the fond farewells of a large contingent of friends from the University of Dallas.
Vann, who is a member of the university’s Board of Trustees, played a significant role in the development of the school during his seven years as bishop of Fort Worth. He was the commencement speaker for the school’s 2011 graduation and the keynote speaker at the School of Ministry graduations in 2010 and 2012. He also presided over the School of Ministry graduation in 2011.
President Thomas Keefe is among those who worked closely with the bishop.
“Bishop Vann has been a tremendous asset to the University and to me personally,” Keefe said. “He is an insightful board leader. He has a huge pastoral presence, and he has been very, very important on the Board of Trustees and as an adviser and counselor to me as we strive to make this the finest Catholic university in the country. Orange County is receiving a very powerful leader.”
The appointment of Vann, 61, as the bishop of the Orange Diocese was announced on Sept. 21 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He will replace the retiring Tod Brown, (USCCB) who had reached the mandatory retirement age of 75. A replacement for the Fort Worth diocese has not been named.
As a member of the Board of Trustees, Vann worked closely with Keefe and the board throughout his time in Texas.
He was instrumental in the formation of the new undergraduate degree in pastoral ministry that UD has offered for the past few semesters. Working with Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Dallas Diocese to implement a 2008 proposal from the USCCB, which urged Catholic universities to address the need for pastoral ministers in the church, Vann suggested that UD have a stronger and more powerful presence in the field of lay ministry. Vann helped to draft the resulting undergraduate degree and also reviewed materials for it. In addition, he was active in discussions of the new major with alumni and students, Keefe said.
“It [the degree in pastoral ministry] is a wonderful addition to the university and one thanks in no small part to the efforts of Bishop Vann,” Keefe remarked.
Vann joined the Fort Worth diocese in 2005 and has been instrumental in making capital improvements to church and parish buildings, and oversaw $135 million in improvements. During his tenure, Vann saw the Catholic population of the Diocese of Fort Worth grow tremendously. The Catholics he served included a large number of Hispanic and Vietnamese people, and under his guidance the diocese built one of the largest Vietnamese churches in the nation.
He also helped to review and strengthen the network of Catholic schools and to help parishioners afford them through scholarships. Vann also maintained an active blog through which he offered reflections, announcements and prayers. The blog, “The Shepherd of Fort Worth,” was credited with making him more present and accessible to his people.
Pat Svacina, the director of communications for the Fort Worth Diocese, said Vann has not said if he plans to continue a blog in San Diego, but “probably will have a means of online communication.”
Vann’s move to California and the fastest growing diocese in the nation will reacquaint him with an old friend. Vann and Brown have known each other since studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Although he has maintained a friendship with Bishop Brown, he has not previously worked with his new diocese.
“His experience there has been coincidental; he has been out there before but has not had a professional working relationship,” Svacina said. Vann will face many of the challenges similar to those he experienced with Fort Worth. Orange has a large Hispanic and Vietnamese population, as well as a large school system. The diocese is also faced with an increasing Catholic population of well over one million people, which will need to be served as it continues to grow.
Vann’s experience with diverse populations – he is fluent in Italian and Spanish and competent in Vietnamese – will help him serve a growing Catholic population in San Diego.
The San Diego Diocese was the center of a $100 million sexual abuse case – one of the largest cases in the country. Bishop Vann dealt with an abuse case in his own diocese, but it did not garner much attention or controversy.
In a news conference in California, Vann told members of what will soon be his diocese: “I have so much to be grateful to God for the people of the Diocese of Fort Worth … I will miss them very much. But I promise that as we grow together in this exciting and dynamic time of the Diocese of Orange, I will love you and do my best to serve you with the Lord’s help.”
–Thomas Hood & Alexander Hermes also contributed to the reporting and writing of this article.