Father Michael Barber teaches seminarians what Catholic leaders want in their priests. . .
Fr. Michael Barber, SJ
San Francisco Chapter
Whether they know it or not, Legates in San Francisco are impacting a whole generation of priests. The chapter’s chaplain, Fr. Michael Barber, uses his Legatus experience to inform his classroom of what Catholic leaders want in their priests and their parishes. A theology professor and director of the Spiritual Life Program at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Fr. Barber is also a Navy chaplain influencing a whole generation of Marines. He’s served as a Legatus chaplain in the City by the Bay for five years.
What attracted you to the priesthood?
I’ve wanted to be a priest my whole life — since I was a little boy. I grew up in San Francisco and Sacramento. The Jesuits appealed to me because I was interested in being a teaching priest.
How did you become a Legatus chaplain?
I’ve been here at the seminary for seven years, and some of the people on our board of trustees are Legatus members. They invited me to attend a few of the meetings and celebrate Masses for them. That’s how I fell into it. Archbishop [William] Levada was originally the chaplain, and he couldn’t make all of the meetings so I filled in for him.
What do you try to bring to the members every month?
I am concerned with their growth in holiness, and I want to support their Catholic faith and try to help them live it here in Northern California where the culture can be hostile to the faith.
Personally, I prize the discussions we have at the meetings on current events, how to read the signs of the times in order to figure out what’s going on in the world. I find that to be very stimulating. I enjoy the speakers and insights from Legatus members on business, law, medicine, raising children and families. I bring that to my seminarians at the seminary.
Legates tell me what they are looking for in parish priests and the kind of parishes they want to attend. People vote more now with their feet than they do with their geography. I tell the seminarians that people want intelligent priests; they want educated priests — priests who know what’s going on in politics, government and culture — so they can comment intelligently from the pulpit when interpreting the Gospel.
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.