Oakland Bishop-elect Michael Barber
OAKLAND//RELIGION | The Catholic Church’s first Jesuit pope has chosen one of his brethren to take over the Oakland Diocese. Fr. Michael Barber will become the fifth bishop in Oakland’s history serving nearly 600,000 Catholics in the East Bay.
Barber, 59, will be ordained May 25 and replaces Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who now heads the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Barber is currently a director at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass.
Fr. Thomas Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference of the United States said, “I know him to be a man of prayer and discernment who will be a fine pastor for the people of Oakland.”
Ordained as a priest in 1985, Barber’s work in the church is highlighted by his time as a Navy reserve chaplain. He was called to active duty in 2003 with the Marines during the invasion of Iraq.
In a 2009 interview with the Catholic magazine Legatus, Barber said evangelizing to young soldiers allowed him to reach followers who would normally not have the means to afford a Jesuit education. “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.”
Born in Salt Lake City, Barber was raised in San Francisco, Novato and Sacramento. He has held local positions within the Archdiocese of San Francisco and St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park. Barber was also a ministerial volunteer at San Quentin State prison for six years starting in 2004.
Although the appointment of Barber is in keeping with the austere doctrine of Pope Francis, the elevation of a non-bishop without a haughty resume is surprising for a diocese of Oakland’s importance. Rocco Palmo, a well-known reporter of the church in the U.S., said “It takes some memory-jogging to recall the last time a simple priest was named to lead a church of Oakland size.”
Despite the long tradition of Catholicism in the East Bay, the Oakland Diocese, itself, is not very old. Carved out of the San Francisco archdiocese in 1962, Barber will become only the fifth bishop in its history, but the third in the last five years. He follows Bishops Allen Vigneron and Coridleone, who preceded Floyd Begin and John Cummins, who led the diocese for the majority of its existence.