Bishop Barber leaves the cathedral after his first episcopal Mass.
All: CINDY CHEW/THE CATHOLIC VOICE
Welcoming Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ
A moment of reflection during his first Mass as bishop on May 26.
When it was learned that Father Michael Barber, SJ, had been named bishop of Oakland, the only question remaining was: Which one?
Bishop Barber himself had a similar question for the apostolic nuncio, when he met with him in person in Washington, DC, a few days after receiving the call telling him that the Holy Father wanted him to become the fifth bishop of Oakland.
"Are you sure you have the right Michael Barber, SJ?" he asked respectfully.
There are three Jesuit priests in the United States named Michael Barber.
Michael Charles Barber was born in 1954 to Californians living temporarily in Salt Lake City. He is the oldest of three brothers, two of them Jesuit priests. As a young boy his early teachers, Ursuline Sisters from Santa Rosa and Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, instilled the beauty of the Catholic faith in him. He was a youngster, like many baby boomers, who made his First Communion in a parish hall because the church was still being built and spent his school days in crowded classrooms, where he was enthralled by visiting missionaries' stories of faraway lands. He would later go on to serve halfway around the world on islands that lacked luxuries but not people of faith. That's the Michael Barber, SJ selected by the Holy Father.
True to the Jesuit of tradition of serving where he was needed most, Bishop Barber was willing to set aside his own pursuits, primarily, his post-graduate studies on Cardinal John Newman, to go the people.
His long service as a military chaplain in the Navy has given him the closest thing to his own parish on his résumé — an aircraft carrier, and 7,000 military personnel awaiting deployment to Iraq in the tense days before the start of the war.
A call to help build vocations has led to two stints — one at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, the most recent at St. John's Seminary in Boston — where he has not only spent time in the classroom with young men studying for the priesthood, but served as spiritual director. Many of those young priests were present at his ordination and installation as bishop.
The respect is mutual. He lights up when he talks about these new priests, and says he is honored when he is asked to preach at their first Masses. He missed the ordination of five priests because that long-scheduled celebration happened on the same day as his episcopal ordination.
As a young man, he chose the Jesuits because he wanted to be a high school teacher. Among the hardest parts of that response to the calling was telling his parish priest, whom he calls one of the greatest influences of his childhood, that he would not become a diocesan priest.
At the end of the Mass of ordination and installation, in just a few minutes, he offered his vision of being bishop of Oakland: "I would like to do what Pope Francis is doing for the whole church. The priests take care of the people. The bishops take care of the priests. And we all take care of the poor, the sick, and the suffering."
The cathedral erupted in applause.
His journey to Oakland is one of many stops — think of it as a local, and not an express. The map on Pages 26-27 shows many of the places in the world he has studied, taught, ministered and, as his colleagues say, really gotten to know people.
He credits the Jesuits with solid training, summer-time opportunities to get to know various cultures and ministries.
For example, he said that when he was asked where he wanted to study theology, his three choices were Berkeley, Boston and Rome.
"I was sent to Toronto," he said. "That always happens in the Jesuits: They give you three choices and send you somewhere that's not on the list.
"The superior said, 'I know that place and I think it will be the right place for you.' I got there, and he was right. He knew more than me."
It was in Toronto, where he was ordained a deacon in his last year of studies. Expected to do parish work, he walked to the cathedral and offered his services to the rector. He was invited to participate in the Sunday Masses — and he would eventually lead a young adult group. But what he said what was most important about the experience in the inner-city parish was that the rector told him he would take Saturday door duty.
"I saw the whole world come to that door: people with psychiatric problems, people wanting to come in to talk to a priest or for counseling, people who were hungry, who I would go make sandwiches for; people who had no money for medicine."
The path of his ministry has involved finding the something he loved — teaching, for example — then being able to leave it behind when a greater need emerged.
Today, his superior finds that greater need in Oakland, where the challenges and joys of leading this diocese await. He has stepped forward, confirming teenagers, honoring retiring pastors, feeding the poor, and engaging the people in the pews with real-life and real faith.
Welcome, Bishop Barber.
Telling the story
Rev. Mark Wiesner, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Livermore, stepped into a broadcast booth at the Cathedral of Christ the Light for the ordination and installation of Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, on May 25. Father Wiesner provided live commentary for an audience watching on EWTN and through live-streaming on the diocesan website. The video is available at www.oakdiocese.org/OrdinationVideo. It can be viewed in segments. The first includes the procession, greetings and readings; the last includes the bishop's remarks, which tell of his vision for the Diocese of Oakland. In between are the letter of appointment from Pope Francis, read by the apostolic nuncio, the Most Rev. Carlo Maria Viganò; the homily of Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, who was the principal consecrator; the Rite of Ordination; the Liturgy of the Eucharist; and the bishop's blessing of the congregation.
JOSÉ LUIS AGUIRRE/THE CATHOLIC VOICE VOICE
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