Pope Francis has named Jesuit Father Michael Barber, 58, a member of the California Province Jesuits and director of spiritual formation at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, as bishop of Oakland, California.
The appointment was announced by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
“I offer my congratulations and prayers to Bishop-elect Barber. As fellow Sacramentans, we have known one another for many years,” said Jesuit Father Thomas H. Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference of the United States. “ I know him to be a man of prayer and discernment who will be a fine pastor for the people of Oakland.”
Bishop-elect Barber is the first Jesuit named to the U.S. hierarchy by Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope.
“I’m keeping my eyes on Pope Francis and seeing what he did in his first days as pope,” said Bishop-elect Barber at an introductory news conference in Oakland on May 3. “I think he wants servant leaders … who look to the needs of the people. Listen first, speak second.”
Bishop-elect Barber was born July 13, 1954, in Salt Lake City. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1973 and was ordained a priest for the Society in 1985. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history/philosophy from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington; a Master of Divinity and bachelor of sacred theology degrees from Regis College of the University of Toronto; and a licentiate and doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
His assignments after ordination included: missionary in Apia, Western Samoa (1985-1987); student at Gregorian University and assistant professor of theology there (1987-1992); researcher and tutor at Oxford University (1992-1998); director, School of Pastoral Leadership, Archdiocese of San Francisco (1998-2001); assistant professor of systematic and moral theology and spiritual director, St. Patrick Seminary, Menlo Park, California (2002-2010); and director of spiritual formation, St. John’s Seminary (2010-present).
Bishop-elect Barber said he would like “from time to time to get into the classroom” because education is a priority of the Jesuits. He added he also wants to “visit city jails and county jails as the pope has” and to visit Catholic Charities facilities, “getting my hands dirty in soup kitchen by washing dishes, pots and pans.”
He also spoke of jail ministry: “It’s one of those ministries expressly commended by Christ for us to do. ‘When I was in prison you visited me.’ You can’t get more explicit than that.”
Bishop-elect Barber succeeds Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who was named head of the San Francisco Archdiocese on July 27, 2012. The Oakland Diocese includes 1,467 square miles and two counties, Alameda and Contra Costa, in California. The diocese has 2,586,396 people, with 399,546, or 15 percent of them, Catholic.
“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 Jesuit Father Michael Barber our full support and continued affection as he continues to minister to the people of God in this new mission,” said Jesuit Father Michael F. Weiler, Provincial of the California Province of the Society of Jesus. [America Magazine, Catholic News Service]