Bishop-elect Barron says goodbye to community

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, September 6, 2015

Bishop-elect Barron says goodbye to community

Bishop-elect Robert Barron gives his remarks during the service. Archbishop Cupich joined participants for the valediction of Bishop-elect Robert Barron speaks during a vespers service in the Immaculate Conception Chapel at Mundelein Seminary on Aug. 26. (John H. White/Catholic New World)
Archbishop Cupich joined participants for the valediction of Bishop-elect Robert Barron during a vespers service in the Immaculate Conception Chapel at Mundelein Seminary on Aug. 26. Barron served as the rector/president of University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary from 2012 until 2015. (John H. White/Catholic New World)
Bishop-elect Robert Barron greets Franciscan sisters during a receiving line following the a vespers service in the Immaculate Conception Chapel at Mundelein Seminary on Aug. 26. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Cards and drawings congratulating Bishop-elect Robert Barron were left by well-wishers following a vespers service in the Immaculate Conception Chapel at Mundelein Seminary on Aug. 26. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Bishop-elect Barron greets well-wishers during a receiving line after a farewell vespers service at University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary on Aug. 26. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Mundelein Seminary bid a fond farewell to Bishop-elect Robert Barron with a vespers service and reception Aug. 26.

The Immaculate Conception Chapel at the seminary was packed with seminarians, friends, benefactors and several bishops who were on campus for a summer retreat.

Bishop-elect Barron, dressed in his bishop’s cassock, spoke near the conclusion of the service and recalled the first time he visited Mundelein.

It was the first really warm day of spring in 1979, following a winter that remains legendary in the Chicago area for its brutality, and he skipped an afternoon class to accompany friends from Niles College seminary. He was struck that first time by the beauty of the place, both the natural surroundings and the way the campus buildings worked with them.

“There was just something secret and magical about the place, and it sank deep into my soul,” Barron said. “I think now it was the Holy Spirit convincing me that you’re going to be here for a long time.”

Bishop-elect Barron, 55, is to be consecrated an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on Sept. 8. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1986 and has served as rector/president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary since 2012.

In addition, he is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, a not-for-profit that spreads the Gospel through mainstream and social media. He is believed to have more social media followers than any Catholic leader aside from Pope Francis.

Father John Kartje has been named to succeed him as rector/president at Mundelein. See story on Page 20.

Archbishop Cupich, who preached the homily, touched on a frequent theme of his predecessor, Cardinal George, saying that the freedom Christ offers is the freedom to do what is right, the freedom to do what God wills.

That is the freedom embodied by Pope Francis, and that is the freedom that Bishopelect Barron has, the archbishop said. It is a freedom that requires action so as not to get to “stuck in the realm of pure ideas,” he said.

“Bishop-elect Barron, you have given your life as a priest and a scholar to aiding people to become free, intellectually, spiritually and humanly,” the archbishop said. “I see a man prompted by an internal freedom that makes you nimble and agile, creative and imaginative, as you explore with curiosity but also with deep respect the lives of people and their cultures, looking for where God has been working.”

Bishop-elect Barron chose as his episcopal motto, “Non nisi te domine,” translated as “Only you, Lord.” It’s said to be the answer St. Thomas Aquinas gave when Christ asked him from the crucifix what he wanted as a reward for his great teaching.

“I tell my students, if the Lord speaks to you asking that question, that’s the answer,” Bishop-elect Barron said. “If you have Christ, then you’ll know what to do with everything else. If you don’t have Christ, even the best things in the world will eventually turn on you and destroy you.”

Bishop-elect Barron used his remarks to express gratitude to the faculty and students at Mundelein, where he served in several faculty positions before being named rector.

He also said he is proud of the students at Mundelein, who hail from dioceses around the United States.

“We are 225 strong. It’s the most students we’ve had here since the 1960s, and I see behind them a whole generation of students that I taught,” he said. “These are young men who discerned their vocations during the darkest period of American Catholic Church history. They discerned their vocation under the cloud of the sex abuse scandal. Yet they came. There’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the church.”

Bishop-elect Barron said he is also grateful for Word on Fire, which started with a 5:15 a.m. radio program on Sunday mornings on WGN, funded primarily by donors from Sacred Heart Parish in Winnetka.

A parishioner in the late 1990s suggested that then-Father Barron put those talks on a website. “I said, and I quote, ‘What’s a website?’” Bishop-elect Barron joked.

Shortly after that started, Cardinal Francis George took him aside during a function at the seminary and asked him “jump-start evangelization,” he said.

The cardinal continued to offer his support as the bishop-elect developed more forms of media outreach, including his “Catholicism” documentary series. For several years, Bishop- elect Barron lived at the cardinal’s residence and shared meals with him when their schedules allowed.

“Dinner with Cardinal George was like your doctoral defense. It was a lively couple of hours,” he said.

Bishop-elect Barron said he also is proud and grateful to be a Chicago priest in the tradition of Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, rector of Mundelein seminary from 1936-1944. “I am the unworthy successor of Reynold Hillenbrand,” he said.

As a young priest on his first assignment at St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Park Ridge, Bishop-elect Barron encountered a retired priest, Msgr. William Quinn, who taught him that service and liturgy and beauty all work hand in hand.

“He said Hillenbrand’s passion for social justice was grounded in the liturgy, it was grounded in the prayer of the church,” he said. “One of Hillenbrand’s great lines was the poor need beauty as much as they need food and drink.”

Quinn went on to explain that his own commitment to social justice sprang from the integrated intellectual tradition of the church, a tradition that includes Dante and St. Thomas Aquinas.

“That’s when I got the Chicago thing,” Bishop-elect Barron said. “Out of this densely textured, richly integrated Catholic cultural and intellectual tradition comes this vibrant commitment to social justice. And when that comes together, we’ve got this wonderful Chicago way of being Catholic. That’s what I hope can bring to LA.”