Bishop known as ‘humble servant,’ ‘strong advocate’ for those in need

DALLAS — During Bishop Kevin J. Farrell’s tenure in Dallas, the diocese has made inroads in nearly all sectors of the life of the church, from an increase in priestly vocations to steady Catholic school enrollment during tough economic times.

The diocese also has seen more than $1 billion in expansion, renovation or new construction of churches, parish elementary and middle schools and high schools and other related facilities.

Pope Francis greets Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas in Washington in September 2015. Pope Francis has named the Texas bishop to head the Vatican's new office for laity, family and life. (CNS photo | courtesy The Texas Catholic)

Pope Francis greets Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas in Washington in September 2015. Pope Francis has named the Texas bishop to head the Vatican’s new office for laity, family and life. (CNS photo | courtesy The Texas Catholic)

Bishop Farrell approved the consolidation of four elementary schools into two academies for more efficiency and accountability, acting on a recommendation from an ad hoc committee of local Catholic leaders charged with forging a new vision for Catholic education.

On Aug. 17, Pope Francis named Bishop Farrell to head the Vatican’s new Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, which officially begins its work Sept. 1. It merges the current Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Bishop Farrell’s “accomplishments and influence are well known throughout the Dallas community at large,” said Matt Kramer, president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization that over the past 25 years has provided $94 million in grants to religious, charitable and educational organizations through its hundreds of charitable trusts and funds.

“It’s no surprise that he would be tapped for this role at the Vatican; it is well-deserved,” Kramer told The Texas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Dallas.

“While his departure will be a loss for more than 1 million local Catholics, we look forward to seeing the global impact he makes through this new ministry,” he added.

Bishop Farrell was born in Dublin Sept. 2, 1947, and was ordained to the priesthood in Rome as a member of the Legionaries of Christ Dec. 24, 1978. He was later incardinated as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, where he served in several parishes.

He also served the archdiocese as the director of the Spanish Catholic Center, the assistant executive director and interim director of Catholic Charities, archdiocesan secretary of finance, and vicar general and moderator of the Curia. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Washington Archdiocese Feb. 11, 2002.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who is the retired archbishop of Washington, headed the archdiocese when then-Msgr. Farrell was vicar general.

“If any great things were accomplished during my years of service as archbishop, much of the credit goes to Bishop Farrell, an extraordinary administrator and a most zealous pastor,” the cardinal said in a statement. “I believe there is nothing Bishop Farrell cannot do and I have watched him do it with Irish charm and American efficiency.”

Bishop Farrell became the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Dallas when he was appointed March 6, 2007, by Pope Benedict XVI and was installed at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in downtown Dallas May 1, 2007.

Every January since his arrival, Bishop Farrell has concelebrated Mass with other bishops and priests during the annual March for Life events and rally that commemorate the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling legalizing abortion.

In English and in Spanish, he has urged an ecumenical gathering of thousands of people in front of the Earle Cabell Federal Building in Dallas — where the Roe v. Wade case was first argued — to never give up the fight for the protection of life from conception to natural death.

He led a successful $125 million campaign to support five pillars of the local church: parishes, Catholic Charities, Holy Trinity Seminary, the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and Catholic schools.

The Bishop Farrell Golf Invitational, which began in 2011 sells out its allotment of teams each year, has raised more than $2.7 million to provide tuition assistance for Catholic school students in grades K-8.

In December 2014, he donned a Santa Claus hat, posed for photos and passed out gifts to needy families who had registered through Catholic Charities of Dallas, Inc. He also has delivered the invocation at the annual Catholic Charities of Dallas Gala that has raised millions of dollars to help the needy across the diocese.

“He is a humble servant and a strong advocate for the thousands of people who need hope and help in life — from children in poverty to immigrants who need a voice to families desperate for education and safe assistance,” said Dave Woodyard, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Dallas. “We wish him all the best and feel blessed to have had his counsel and partnership.”

In the fall of 2014, Dallas city and county leaders asked Bishop Farrell if the diocese could house a family that needed to be quarantined because of their exposure to an Ebola patient, who later died. For more than a month, four people who were members of a Baptist church were housed in a bungalow in the Catholic Formation and Conference Center in southern Dallas.

At a news conference at the end of the quarantine, Bishop Farrell said that he thought about the request for a minute before saying, “Yes,” and added, “We help people because we’re Catholic, not because they are Catholic.”

In the past year, as gun violence and mass killings raged across the world, Bishop Farrell dedicated blogs that addressed the easy access of guns by terrorists, criminals and mentally unstable people and abhorred Texas’ new legislation that allows the open carrying of guns.

He was among several religious leaders asked by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to deliver a prayer July 8 in Thanks-Giving Square in downtown Dallas, the day after five Dallas-area police officers were gunned down as they were protecting people protesting fatal shootings by officers in other parts of the country.

Bishop Farrell serves as the chancellor of the University of Dallas in Irving and is on the board of trustees of the Papal Foundation, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, The Catholic University of America, St. Luke Institute, all in Washington.

He currently serves on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Executive Committee, and he is USCCB treasurer.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who is president of the USCCB, said the bishops will miss Bishop Farrell as member of their conference, where as treasurer “his leadership set the highest standards of good stewardship.”

The new Vatican dicastery has “gained a prefect with deep pastoral roots,” the archbishop said, noting how in early July Bishop Farrell had “led the faithful of Dallas in an outpouring of love in response to the terrible violence.”