| Sacramento high school boys paths intersect
When Michael Barber served as student body president at St. Pius X Prep, the minor seminary in Galt, Interschool Council activities introduced him to other student leaders in the Sacramento area, including Tom Smolich, who, as a junior, was student body secretary at Jesuit High School.
Thus began an association that is into its fifth decade between the new bishop of Oakland and a fellow Jesuit who has taught high school with him, and, later, served as his provincial.
Rev. Thomas Smolich, SJ, serves as president of the Washington, DC-based Jesuit Conference.
"We overlapped a year at Loyola High School," Father Smolich said of the 1980-81 academic year. Father Smolich said he recently attended the 30th reunion of the school's Class of 1983. Bishop Barber was unable to attend. But he was remembered.
"He was the water polo coach," said Father Smolich. "A lot of the guys have great memories and affection for him."
That their former coach was well remembered did not surprise Father Smolich. "Michael's fundamentally a really kind guy," he said. "The affection these guys had 30 years later says a lot about him."
Bishop Barber's work as a military chaplain, Father Smolich said, has also been "distinctive."
"Most guys who ask permission to do it are given permission to do it," Father Smolich said. He added that most who serve might serve for three to five years of active duty. "Michael is atypical in that he's done this reserve service for many years."
"His biography is not unlike the pope's," Father Smolich said. "Wherever he went, he was so engaged with people."
That engagement with people came at a price for the scholar, whose academic pursuits were delayed by the call to go where the need was greatest.
"Ignatian Spirituality would form his way of looking at the world," said Father Smolich. He said he knew that the bishop has at least twice completed the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola.
"That gives a world view: We are all sinners, tremendously loved by God. We are ultimately called to put that love into action. Love is better shown in deeds than words," said Father Smolich.
"We are called to share that love," he said. "You see that in the way he is with people."
Father Smolich said he was struck by the number of young priests, from the Oakland diocese and beyond, who attended the May 25 ordination and installation Mass. "You could see the love we've been given being shared with others," said Father Smolich.
Jesuits do not seek to become bishops.
But they are obedient to the pope, and on the direct request of the pope would serve. There are four Jesuit bishops in the United States; two are bishops emeritus. Bishop Barber is the first in the United States to have been appointed by Pope Francis.
"Michael certainly was not looking for this," said Father Smolich. "I pray for him every day," he said. "We want him to do well."
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