Fr. Michael Barber, SJ named new bishop of Oakland

This morning the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has appointed Father Michael Barber, SJ the new bishop of Oakland, California. He succeeds Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who took over as head of the Archdiocese of San Francisco last October.

Father Barber currently serves as director of spiritual formation at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. From Catholic News Agency:

The bishop-designate entered the Jesuits in 1973 and was ordained a priest in 1985.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and history at Gonzaga University in 1978, completed his theological studies at Regis College at the University of Toronto in 1985, and obtained an ecclesiastical license in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1989.

At 59 years-old, Bishop-designate Barber has served in numerous capacities, including as a missionary in Western Samoa, an assistant professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, a tutor and chaplain at the University of Oxford, and as chaplain for the U.S. Navy Reserve.

During his time at the Gregorian, he taught dogmatic theology and conducted research on unpublished manuscripts of sermons by Blessed John Henry Newman.

His time as a military chaplain included being called to active duty in 2003 to serve the 6,000 troops in the 4th Marine Air Wing who participated in the invasion of Iraq.

He speaks English, Italian, Spanish and Latin.

Rocco Palmo reported yesterday that Seattle’s retired Archbishop Alexander Brunett—who has been serving as the administrator for the Diocese of Oakland since Archbishop Cordileone’s move across the Bay—informed the priests of Oakland that their new bishop will take office on May 25.

As mentioned above, Bishop-designate Barber has served as a Navy chaplain. He discussed his work in the military in a brief 2009 interview in Legatus magazine—a publication of the Catholic business-leaders organization Legatus, for which Barber served as a chaplain for several years while in California:

You are also a Navy chaplain.

Yes. I was attracted to the Naval Reserves when I was stationed in Rome. They invited me to celebrate Mass in 1991 on an American warship coming into Naples during the first Gulf War. I spent the weekend visiting with the sailors. As I was leaving the ship, the captain said to me, “We’ve got to get you some gold stripes to put around your sleeves.” So I asked permission to join the Navy reserves. I heard that sailors were attending Protestant services because there were no Catholic priests available. More than anything that inspired me to volunteer.

How has your Navy service affected your priesthood?

With the military you get a direct cross-section of America — a lot of the young people who wouldn’t have the tuition money to go to a Jesuit school. I like that. It’s a little more rough-and-tumble than you would encounter in a refined schoolroom atmosphere. You also meet many unchurched kids. I am their chaplain whether they like it or not. I go around the whole ship to all the Marines in the whole unit. I speak to them about moral issues or give them briefs about religious culture.

I’ve also made friends with chaplains from other faiths. I’ve known one for 18 years, and I’m like an uncle to his kids. I would never be that close to a Southern Baptist in normal life.

UPDATE: This bio is a little dated now, but it does include a few more biographical details about the new bishop of Oakland.  

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.