By Bishop Kevin J. Farrell
Seventh Bishop of the Diocese of Dallas
Belgian Cardinal Leo Suenens, one of the giants of Vatican II, often spoke of the “Surprises of the Spirit.”
My life has been filled with “Surprises of the Spirit” during my decade in Dallas. When Pope Benedict XVI surprised me by appointing me Bishop of Dallas, I did not know a single person in the state. I must admit to feelings of apprehension. My time in Dallas, prior to March of 2007, was limited to passing through D/FW International Airport. So I decided to take a sneak peek at my new home and made a quiet visit, unannounced and unbeknown to those whom I was to serve.
After nearly a quarter of a century in Washington, I may have picked up a bit of the “Beltway Mentality” that included a somewhat detached approach to the rest of the nation. As I wandered around Dallas, visiting a few churches, talking with people, I came to realize that my new ministry was more than a surprise; it was indeed a gift. I found a cosmopolitan city, vibrant, warm and future-oriented and a welcoming Catholic community open to new leadership and opportunities.
There were indeed challenges, particularly the healing of individual and community wounds resulting from reprehensible instances of sexual abuse. With the support of the clergy and a committed laity, we undertook the re-imaging of the Catholic Church of Dallas as full partners in the efforts of both the civic and religious on behalf of the people of Dallas and surrounding communities.
North Central Texas, wherein the Diocese of Dallas lies, was arguably the fastest-growing region in the country, and the Catholic community also increased in both numbers and diversity. The number of Catholics in the diocese grew from 947,000 in 2007 to more than 1.3 million today. One of our greatest struggles and successes has been to increase priestly vocations to minister to the rapidly growing community. Happily, the number of seminarians in formation for the Diocese of Dallas in our two diocesan seminaries and other institutions continues to increase.
To meet the many special needs of the diocese, our cathedral, our parishes, schools and charitable programs and institutions, more than $130 million has been pledged by Catholics through the Our Faith, Our Future capital campaign, in addition to the generous support of donors to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal for Catholic Ministries, which sustains our various ministerial outreaches.
“Our Students, Our Future: A Roadmap for Excellence,” a strategic plan for our Catholic schools developed by a task force comprising of lay men and women, that included educators, parents, philanthropists and professionals, is in place resulting in the formation of St. Philip & St. Augustine Catholic Academy in Pleasant Grove and Holy Family Catholic Academy in Irving. Proceeds from the Bishop Farrell Invitational golf tournament have provided access to Catholic education to thousands of students.
Cristo Rey Dallas College Preparatory School is in its second year of operation with great success and a waiting list. It is part of the Cristo Rey Network which consists of 30 Catholic high schools around the country serving youth from low-income backgrounds with a unique blend of rigorous academics and professional work experience.
The Diocese of Dallas is not only in our community, it is part of the community working cooperatively with civic and religious leaders to address immediate concerns and plan for future needs. I particularly treasure the experience of working with our mayor and county judge in providing protective isolation for the family of the country’s first Ebola patient in 2015 and in participating in the 2013 March and rally to promote immigration reform.
I leave Dallas with a heavy heart. I will miss the friendship and fellowship that I experienced here. I will carry with me always memories of those whose labors, love and generosity made my ministry fruitful. During this brief moment in the continuum that is the Church, together, we have built on what others began and laid foundations for those who will follow.
As I observed earlier, my life has been full of Surprises of the Spirit in my decade in Dallas. The latest one from Pope Francis is a bit overwhelming. Only after my brief visit to the Vatican last month to open the new office did I begin to grasp the scope of the new dicastery for which I will be responsible.
Please pray for me, and know I will always keep the Diocese of Dallas in my prayers and my heart.
Bishop Kevin J. Farrell is the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Dallas and the publisher of The Texas Catholic. On Aug. 17, he was named the Prefect for the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life at the Vatican.