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MAY 6, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA
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Rev. Michael C. Barber to be ordained May 25

The Rev. Michael Charles Barber SJ has been named the fifth bishop of Oakland. He will be ordained a bishop on May 25 at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland.

Bishop-elect Michael Barber, right, with Archbishop Alexander Brunett after a press conference in the Cathedral Event Center in Oakland on Friday.
Cindy Chew/The Catholic Voice

The bishop-elect, 58, met the media and chancery staff on May 3 in Oakland. He was introduced by Archbishop Alex J. Brunett, the retired archbishop of Seattle who has served as apostolic administrator since Oct. 4, when the previous bishop, Salvatore Cordileone, was seated as archbishop of San Francisco.

“I’d like to express my gratitude to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for his trust and confidence in appointing me bishop of Oakland,” he said. “I am humbled that I am the first Jesuit priest to be appointed a bishop by our new Jesuit pope.”

He said he had accepted the mission in accord with the fourth vow of obedience to the pope he had taken.

“That being said, I am absolutely delighted to come to Oakland as your new bishop,” he said.

He thanked Archbishop Brunett for “coming out of retirement to serve us in this time of transition,” and Archbishop Cordileone for agreeing to ordain him on May 25. Three bishops will be involved in the rite.

“I ask for your prayers — I really need your prayers — that I may be a shepherd in accordance with Christ’s heart,” he said. “In return, I promise you my total commitment, my total dedication and my affection as your servant and bishop.”

The bishop-elect has served as director of spiritual formation at St. John Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston since 2010. Before that, he served in the same role at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, where he taught as seminarians many of the newer priests in the Diocese of Oakland.

While Bishop-elect Barber said, “I have a lot to learn about the church in Oakland. I’ll look forward to meeting with the priests and parish communities, seeing what the priorities are,” he did say he had a good example to follow.

“I’m keeping my eye on Pope Francis and watching what he did in his first day as pope, reaching out to the poor and marginalized,” he said.

When his brother, who is also a Jesuit priest, served as a prison chaplain at San Quentin State Prison, the bishop-elect was often invited to celebrate Mass and visit with prisoners.

“I’d like to go to our county jails, our city jails,” he said. “I’d like to participate in our soup kitchens and in Catholic Charities, getting my hands dirty, handing out food, washing dishes, pots and pans, wherever I can symbolically show the church is there to serve the poor and marginalized.”

He also said he’d like to get in the schools “I joined the Jesuit Fathers to be a teaching priest,” he said, describing a school day of teaching five sections of sophomore history, followed by coaching water polo and swimming.

“I believe in our Catholic schools,” he said, noting that they provide an opportunity to “bring the light of Christ to people in the community.”

He is first priest to be appointed bishop of Oakland. His predecessors — Bishops Floyd L. Begin, John Cummins, Allen H. Vigneron and Cordileone — had served as bishops elsewhere. In the 51-year history of the diocese, he is the first Jesuit to lead it.

“I offer my congratulations and prayers to Bishop-elect Barber. As fellow Sacramentans, we have known one another for many years,” the Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of the United States, said in a statement. “I know him to be a man of prayer and discernment who will be a fine pastor for the people of Oakland.”

The Rev. Michael F. Weiler, SJ, provincial of the California Province of the Society of Jesus, said, “From its origin, the Society of Jesus was formed to be an instrument of Christ by serving the Church. Though Jesuits promise not to seek high office in the Church, when asked by the Holy Father, we respond to the call and serve as bishops.

“We promise our brother Fr. Michael Barber our full support and continued affection as he continues to minister to the people of God in this new mission.”

The bishop-elect said the assignment came as a surprise to him, and that he is one of three Jesuits in the United States named Michael Barber.

One of the bishop-elect’s first questions to the apostolic nuncio, when they met in Washington, DC, recently, was: “Do you have the right Michael Barber, SJ?”

He was assured he was the right one.

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