DALLAS -- On Friday, Bishop Kevin Farrell, the man who helped to unify and transform the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, will move on from the job he thought he would retire from.
Bishop Farrell has been promoted to a new position at the Vatican where he will be the highest-ranking American working directly with Pope Francis. He sat down with us for a final interview about what lies ahead both for him and the Diocese of Dallas.
"I thought it was a joke. Why would he have picked me? I do not know," said Bishop Kevin Farrell.
The bishop of the Diocese of Dallas is still taken aback by the news. How did he get the attention of the pope?
"I don't know. I would love to know why," Farrell said during our last interview in his Dallas office.
On Oct. 7, Bishop Farrell will lead a new Vatican office focusing on ordinary Catholics throughout the world. It is part of the Vatican’s effort to reach out to more people in the pews.
The pope personally tapped Bishop Farrell for the position, presumably in part because of how he turned things around in the Diocese of Dallas after a huge sexual abuse scandal that led to a $23 million settlement in 1998.
"You're sitting in this little room with the pope, and he has all the time in the world to tell you what his plan is and what he wants and why he wants it,” Farrell said. “And what are you going to do? You just can't say no.”
Bishop Farrell says he has always promoted lay people. When he arrived in 2007 to a diocese with increasing tension after years of turmoil, he replaced most of the clergy in the administration with ordinary citizens.
"I think the Catholic Church is more unified now. I think Catholics have a sense of pride again,” he said. “I think Catholics feel they are making an impact in our community and in our society.”
According to the Diocese, during Bishop Farrell’s tenure they have grown to 1.3 million Catholics. There are more priests, seminarians, and more students getting a Catholic education.
"I think of our schools. I think of the people who have helped me give new life to schools," he said.
Beyond the Diocese, Bishop Ferrell gained influence in the community.
When he got the call to help the family of Ebola patient Eric Duncan, he found them a safe shelter.
“I did it because I felt it was the right thing to do and I said to myself, ‘Well, what would Christ have done? What would Jesus do?’” Farrell said.
When he departs for Rome next week, it will be the first time Farrell has lived there since he was a student 40 years ago. His office will be a ten-minute walk from the pope’s. The two will meet at least once a month.
Farrell says the pope did ask for his input on a new bishop for Dallas, but would not expand on the specifics of their conversation. He did hint a new bishop could be named within the next couple of months before Christmas.
Farrell has advice for him.
"They have to get to know the people,” he insisted. “You cannot come and just sit in an office. You have to be out there in every parish.”
Farrell is proud of the work he has accomplished in Dallas and admits he’s shed more than a few tears in the last month.
"I'm sad to leave Dallas in many ways,” he said. “I feel it's my home and, eventually, I will come back to retire in Dallas."
After 38 years in the priesthood, Bishop Farrell says he’s learned the only way to be a leader is to listen to the people around you — both the positive and the negative.
He hopes the City of Dallas remembers him as someone who did just that, and as someone who cared.
"I will always have Dallas in my heart,” Bishop Farrell said.