DECATUR — In four years at Millikin University, Kevin Vann studied ceaselessly how to help people. As a medical technologist, he returned to his hometown in Springfield to work at St. John’s Hospital for several years, but his heart was pulling him in a different direction.
Instead of helping people physically, he realized he possessed an even stronger desire to help them spiritually.
Today, “The Most Reverend” Bishop Kevin W. Vann leads more than 1 million Catholics as the head of the influential Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in California. He was instilled as the fourth Bishop of Orange in December of 2012.
“In three years of working the graveyard shift at the hospital, you have a lot of contact with the sick and the dying, which makes you think about the spiritual and eternal,” said Bishop Vann, who will return to Decatur the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 18 as keynote speaker of WDCR Catholic Radio’s third Annual Dinner.
“In my family I had an aunt who was a religious Dominican sister, and I had always been inspired by that example of devotion. When I felt the call to go to seminary, everyone was very supportive. Some people said they weren’t surprised when I told them.”
In fact, it seemed as if many expected Vann to eventually seek a more intensive religious path. He went on to study abroad, earning a JCD Doctor of Canon Law at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome before returning to the United States and beginning a long series of pastoral positions.
Since 1980 he has traveled from place to place for as little as a year and as long as a decade, serving congregations in Springfield, Edwardsville, Chicago, Pittsfield, Griggsville, Auburn, Pawnee, Bethany, Dalton City, Mount Zion, Decatur and Fort Worth, Texas. Every few years he has faced anew the challenge of coming into a brand new congregation, ready to make an impact.
“I have been blessed to minister with many different folks from all over the country,” he said. “I believe you don’t go in with a plan in mind, you examine ‘What is the Lord asking of me?’ You can’t have any preconceived notions about the place you are heading to, simply an openness to forging the path the Lord as chosen for you as their shepherd.”
Decatur proved to be one of the pastor’s longest and most important stops. He served as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church from 1992 to 2001 and was dean of the Decatur Deanery from 1996 onward. It was the largest congregation Vann had led at that point and gave him a first taste of what it would be like to eventually lead huge numbers of Catholics in California.
“Our Lady of Lourdes was a really wonderful, blessed time for me,” he recalled. “The staff worked so well together, and I learned what it meant to be pastor of a big parish with a school. I came from a rural parish, so Decatur was the most industrial city I had been in. It was quite different for me at that time.”
Indeed, Vann intends to go into more detail about his time in Decatur and the subsequent lessons he learned during his keynote address for WDCR’s annual dinner. He will also speak on issues of faith and the modern church. Rather than speak of “challenges,” though, he said his main interest was “the opportunities we are presented in every age of faith to proclaim the gospel.”
“First of all, it will be a chance for me to thank the people of Decatur, because I credit them in many ways with shaping me into the pastor I am today,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing friends from years past and speaking on the work going on in the Diocese of Orange right now. Every day I’m grateful for the opportunity.”