Friday, September 21, 2012

For Orange, A Moving Vann – B16 Taps Fort Worth for Crystal Chair

Over recent years, it’s hard to think of a national project on which Bishop Kevin Vann hasn’t been intimately involved.

From serving on the three-member USCCB team that oversaw the Stateside implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus and mediating the bench’s oft-delicate relations with the nation’s Catholic hospitals, to filing suit against the Federal government over the contraceptive mandate of the Obama administration’s sweeping health-care reform, the 61 year-old prelate has cris-crossed considerably more ecclesial turf than the sprawling 28 counties of Northwest Texas he’s overseen since 2005.

Now, however, the latest task comes via Rome... and given its centerpiece, well, it’s worth its weight in Crystal.

This morning, the Pope named the energetic head of the booming Fort Worth church to lead the diocese of Orange, succeeding Bishop Tod Brown at the helm of the 1.3 million-member fold in Los Angeles’ southern suburbs.

Barring an expedited succession in Chicago – the nation's third-largest diocese, where Cardinal Francis George, 75, is undergoing a fresh round of treatment for a recurrence of cancer – the move will be 2012's most significant handover of an American see in terms of size.

On a lighter note, much as the nod's coming alongside the release of this year’s edition of the iPhone is purely coincidental, with Vann’s affinity for technology – the iconic Apple device and his longtime blog inclusive – it’s nonetheless very fitting.

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In addition to the Pacific move, back East the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester (left) – long a hero of the church's progressive wing – who, after a 33-year tenure in the upstate New York diocese, reached the retirement age last July 15th.

As provision for a permanent successor at the helm of the 350,000-member flock remains pending, advance indications tipped that an apostolic administrator was to be named this morning, most likely in the person of the neighboring Bishop Robert Cunningham of Syracuse.

Back to the West, according to early reports, Vann's installation in Orange will take place in early December. Notably, while the main Mass itself is to be held in one of the diocese's larger parish churches, the customary possession-eve Vespers are expected to take place in the local church's soon-to-be seat: the Protestant landmark heretofore known as Crystal Cathedral, bought by the diocese for $57.5 million late last year and designated by Brown last June as Christ Cathedral on its dedication for Catholic worship, a moment tipped to occur by 2015.

The nominee having arrived in the OC last night, the usual Appointment Day presser is slated for 11am local time at the current pastoral center at Marywood, which is slated to be sold once the diocese takes full possession of the Crystal campus and can move its offices there.

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Described long ago by one of his priests as a “social butterfly,” much as the Illinois-born nominee didn’t figure in most speculation for the Orange nod, the Pope’s pick comes to the post unusually prepared to handle several crucial needs for the growing OC church.

For a diocese whose Hispanic population has been estimated at 40 percent – and lacked a Spanish-speaking bishop since the auxiliary Cirilo Flores’ departure for San Diego earlier this year – Vann’s fluency in the language and devotion to Latino ministry stretch back to his days as the community’s vicar in his native Springfield. (Having led one of the nation’s largest Vietnamese Catholic communities in Fort Worth – whose 2,000-seat church he dedicated last year – he’s likewise able to manage a bit in their native tongue.) The Texas church’s success at drawing priestly vocations – six men are expected to be ordained next year – ranks as another key attribute. Yet most of all, after a difficult, 14-year tenure punctuated by a $100 million settlement of abuse cases, and a public disconnect that saw the reserved Brown both demonized in some local media and blisteringly criticized by the diocese’s more conservative elements, his successor’s hyper-extroverted style and gentle fidelity are likely to serve as a healing balm for a wildly diverse flock whose potential is easily equal to its challenges.

Following in the footsteps of his mother – a nurse who died earlier this year at 84 – Kevin Vann studied medical technology, spending three years in the profession before entering formation for Illinois’ capital church in 1976. Ordained for Springfield in 1981, he earned a JCD at the Angelicum – and as a resident at the Roman house for American student-priests, lived alongside a priest of Orange, then-Fr Michael Heher, who’ll now be his vicar-general.

On his return, while the future bishop taught the canons at his alma mater, St Louis’ Kenrick Seminary, and did tribunal work, then as now, his main interest lay far less in administration than the work of the trenches, pastoring five parishes – at one point, three at once – over time, all alongside a five-year stint as a dean, then simultaneously serving as a pastor and diocesan vicar for both clergy and Hispanics.

As one SoCal cleric remarked on learning the backstory, “My God, he’s a worker.” For the Fort Worth crowd, meanwhile, he’s the bishop who’ll travel 600 miles in a weekend for a full slate of Masses and Mexican festivals, returning home only to run out again for a late-night bite with a youth group who sent him a text that they were at a nearby Denny’s.

In other words, with Vann's new charge barely measuring 40 miles across, what he’ll do in such a concentrated space should make for quite an experience just to watch.

More to come.

SVILUPPO: From later in the day, Vann's opening statement at his appointment presser.