Michael Barber is flanked by his parents, Adlai and Dolores Barber, at his graduation from St. Pius X Prep in Galt in 1972.
California a large influence in Barber family history
The Barber boys – Stephen, left, Kevin and Michael — pose in front of their home in Novato in 1963. In Novato, the two older boys attended Our Lady of Loretto School, where Michael made his First Communion.
Gatherings with extended family were a way of life for the Barbers. Here Michael, Kevin and Stephen are photographed with their mother, Dolores.
California looms large in the family history of Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ. His maternal grandmother lost her home in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, and lived with her family in a tent in Golden Gate Park.
During the Depression, his father's father took a ferry from Oakland to San Francisco every morning before dawn to get to his job, driving a truck for Safeway.
But Michael Charles Barber missed out on being a California-born. A work assignment took his father, Adlai Barber, to Salt Lake City, where he and his wife Dolores welcomed the first of their three sons on July 13, 1954.
Kevin Barber, the bishop's youngest brother and keeper of family stories, relates an incident in the days in Salt Lake City that his mother told her sons:
When Michael was just a few weeks old, his father was away on a business trip. The baby became very ill, and, home alone with no money, the young mother asked a neighbor for help.
The neighbor, who was Mormon, assisted her, and called the pharmacy, telling the druggist: Give her whatever she needs. I will guarantee it.
Dolores Barber never forgot that kindness. "Mom always spoke kindly of the Mormons," Kevin Barber said.
Within the year, the Barbers packed their belongings and put the baby who would grow up to become the fifth bishop of Oakland in a cardboard box — before there were baby seats, he points out — for the 700-mile ride to California. Settling into a flat in San Francisco's Mission District, they brought their son to the neighborhood church to be baptized.
"I was baptized at Mission Dolores in the original font where all the Indians were baptized," the bishop said. "That means a lot to me."
What also means a lot to him is the young priest who baptized him: Father John S. Cummins, himself ordained in 1953, who would be among his predecessors as bishop of Oakland.
Also serving at the mission at the time was Father Warren Holleran, "who is my friend and still teaching at St. Patrick's," said Bishop Barber.
"After I said yes to this," the bishop remarked, "I'm seeing all these confluences of my life pointing to Oakland."
Young Michael was joined by two brothers; Stephen in 1956 and Kevin in 1959. By the start of the 1960s, the Barbers were living in their first house in Novato. His father commuted to San Francisco to work in insurance, and Michael began school at Our Lady of Loretto School in Novato.
"That's where I made my First Communion, and my first Confession. I was taught by the Ursuline nuns of Santa Rosa, who were teaching there at that time," he said.
Like many of the suburban Catholic parishes of the booming era, it was under construction. "I made my First Communion in the parish hall because the church was under construction," he said. "But it was still holy and wonderful. That's where I was struck by the beauty, the mystery, the attractiveness of the Catholic faith, through the stories of the nuns. They gave holy cards as prizes."
He recalled another prize: a small statue that he carried home.
Kevin Barber, the bishop's youngest brother, said the family history was kept on 8mm film home movies, that show, he recalled, his older brothers heading off to school — Michael, with a briefcase, and Stephen walking toward school, and he, the youngest brother and not yet school-age, trying to run after them. And their mother following closely, bringing him back home.
The Barbers grew up with a full complement of cousins in the Bay Area, whom they visited regularly. Their maternal grandmother's San Francisco home was one popular gathering spot; there would be visits to Playland at the Beach, until it closed. As the cousins grew, other trips might include bus rides to the Haight-Ashbury, and ferry trips to Tiburon.
Several of those cousins, smiling broadly, filled pews at Bishop Barber's ordination and first Mass. Said one, "This is the biggest thing that's ever happened in our family."
From Novato, the Barbers moved to Lake Tahoe, where young Michael went to St. Theresa School. After a year, his father wanted to go back into insurance, and the family moved once again, this time to Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento.
The Barber brothers enrolled at St. John Vianney School, where the bishop-to-be would meet the priest he said "had the biggest influence on me in my whole childhood." Msgr. Richard C. Dwyer, Bishop Barber said, was personally very wealthy. His family owned a delta shipping line and he gave up a life of wealth to enter the seminary.
"He went on safari in Africa, he owned a ranch up in Jackson that had livestock and horses, he was an experienced horseman. It was unbelievable what this guy could do," Bishop Barber said. He was very kind but very strong.
"We had that reverential fear of him as boys in serving," he said, with the young altar servers wanting to get everything just right.
Another influence was Sister Mary Jude Stockholm, OP, a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, who was his eighth-grade teacher.
So great was her influence, he would name her — along with the bishop who baptized him and the archbishop who ordained him a priest — as one of the greatest influences that led to his ordination and installation as a bishop.
It was in those classrooms that the seed of a vocation was nurtured. "When I was a kid, priests would come into the classrooms from the mission lands, tell you about being in a canoe on the Amazon and bringing the sacraments to Indians. 'This is wonderful,' I thought, 'I want to do that.'"
After graduation from grammar school in 1968, he entered the minor seminary, St. Pius X Prep in Galt, during a challenging time for vocations.
"Those were times of turbulence," he recalled. Vocations, which had been booming when he entered, began to decline. As a senior, he served as student body president.
He had also found his calling. "I found I wanted to be in a religious order, not a diocesan," he said. "I felt I received this vocation. The hardest thing for me was, after I thought about and discovered the Jesuits and found this was my call, was to tell Monsignor Dwyer I wasn't going to be a diocesan priest. I had to go where I felt God calling me."
That call was to education.
"I wanted to be a teaching priest. I loved high school," he said. "My thought was, if I became a teacher at Jesuit High School, which I admired from afar, they have the boys six hours a day, every day, while Monsignor Dwyer has them for an hour. There's more influence."
After a year of college at Loyola University in Los Angeles, now Loyola Marymount, he was accepted at the age of 19 into the Jesuit novitiate in Santa Barbara.
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