This is how I have tried to live in my over 31 years as a priest, grateful to the Lord for this calling. This phrase is the best way I can use to describe my vocation and my life. It continues to be the foundation for my life and prayer and path that I walk daily with the Lord, and with all of the wonderful people who, in the Lord’s providence, have crossed my path. This phrase - I am first and foremost a pastor was how I lived my life as a parish priest, then as the third Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth. Especially at this moment in time it is how, with the help of God, I seek to live my life with all of you now. I believe that the Lord has brought all of us together here in Orange County to indeed witness to His presence and His love, He who is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life.”I am first and foremost a pastor I daresay is more important to me now than any time in my life of ministry: especially as we are entering the time of proposing the Gospel again - the “New Evangelization” as it is called. In this momentous time in history, we here in the Diocese of Orange, building on a nearly 40 year history, have undertaken the momentous journey of Faith in the acquisition of the “Crystal Cathedral” and its transformation into the “Christ Cathedral.”
For me, being a pastor means being the spiritual caregiver and leader to all who rely on the Church for inspiration, strength, support and meaning in life. In this sense, I believe that I have been called by the Lord Himself, in His mysterious ways, to shepherd the nearly 1.2 million Catholics who find their home in Orange County. The Catholic population here is in many ways a reflection of the Universal Church in all her varied ethnic groups and economic strata who call Orange County their home. Truly the vibrancy and growth in Orange County is perhaps unparalleled in the Catholic Church here in the United States. In many ways, this is a reflection of how the growth and center of life in the Church in the States has shifted from the former Northeast and Midwestern centers to what John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter terms the “global south.”
I have been blessed in my years in Fort Worth to pray with and minister to many young Catholics in our Catholic schools, religious education programs, colleges and youth and young adult ministry settings. The vibrancy and enthusiasm of their faith, and its practice, have been a great testimony to me and have influenced my life, especially reminding me that the “digital world” certainly is a place where we, as the Body of Christ, must be to communicate with our young people. I have been blessed to have walked the Faith journey with Catholics who have suffered economic and family setbacks and challenges. These, among many others, are the concerns of a Pastor. The lives of the people in Orange County with whom I pray, those whom I teach, those whom I meet in pastoral and liturgical settings will guide me as I seek to extend and build on the legacy of Bishop Brown, and all whom came before him.
I truly find it remarkable that our geographic region is so closely tied to the historical and cultural development of Southern California and the West in general. The Church, in sending forth missionaries to this part of the then known world, was instrumental, through her mission, in the development of education, governance, art, music, pastoral and social outreach and more. In this age in which we live, the need is no less to continue to foster the same growth in mission in this part of the United States: where the pastoral outreach and teaching of those times is no less important, and that we build on this heritage and foundation of faith that we have received for this time in history where God in His providence has brought us all together.
I have visited the historic and beautiful Mission San Juan Capistrano. There one can truly get a sense of the first missionaries that came to California to preach the Gospel and built up the Body of Christ with the faith and help of all. When I first came to Texas, I visited the Texas missions in San Antonio and had the same sense of Faith and history. The labors of the Franciscan Friars there and here, and particularly Blessed Junipero Serra, brought the presence of Christ the Lord to the people of their time. As Mission San Juan Capistrano served as (and still does) a place where the light of Christ calls and strengthens all who come there, so too, the local Church of Orange, with the new Cathedral at its center, should serve as the same place of Faith and inspiration for Catholics and all who come our way.
The Diocese of Orange is known to be a vibrant and local Church, and as one national commentator recently said “brimming with life.” This indeed is a blessing for all of us, and we now go forward into the future, full of hope, for all that the Lord has in mind for us. I believe that I bring to my new life here as Bishop a lifetime of training and experience. As now Archbishop of Omaha George Lucas said when he installed me as the Pastor of Blessed Sacrament parish in Springfield, “one stage of one’s life prepares one for the next”, so too, I believe that these collective years of priestly ministry and pastoring will help me to serve, with love, the needs of Catholics of our Diocese. I have always sought to see the foundation of Faith laid past as the sure foundation for bringing our Faith into the future. We are in a “Year of Faith”, and in that year we are asked by the Lord to “Put out into the deep one more time.” As Bishop Brown clearly demonstrated during his episcopal ministry and my own experience first in Springfield, Illinois and then in Fort Worth has taught me, the Episcopal ministry of teaching, governing, and sanctifying in the name of Christ is a journey together toward eternity with all priests, religious and lay faithful in our Diocese. We all rely on each other for encouragement, support, counsel and above all prayer. It is my hope and prayer to strengthen this at all levels and in all ministries here in our Diocese.
As we begin this important time together, I ask for your prayers and look forward to meeting, praying and visiting with you so that, just as in Fort Worth, I am able to learn from the sacred history here, and in that context then, to be the Shepherd the Lord calls me to be. I look forward to being not only a guest, but a part of this great family of God with all of its languages and cultures rooted in our Catholic Faith. I look forward to praying with, and knowing men and women and Faith leaders of all traditions. Here in our Diocese where differences in culture and history are so apparent, it is also apparent how our Faith unites all of us as one people, one Universal Body of Christ, whom I am blessed and honored to serve, and with God’s help to love with all of my heart.
Thank you all again and may God bless you always.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann J.C.D., D.D.
Bishop of Orange