Although a Mass for parishioners from Catholic churches in Seaford, Wantagh, Merrick, Bellmore and Massapequa was slated to start at noon, Bishop John Barres continued to walk down the center aisle of St. William the Abbot Church long past the top of the hour on Feb. 23. Gripping his crosier, he turned to the folks packed into each pew in the church, who were smiling, waving and taking pictures on their cellphones of the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s new leader.
Barres, who was installed as the diocese’s fifth bishop on Jan. 31, said that St. Pope John Paul II inspired him to “experience the people” at Masses across Long Island over the past two months. “[He] said that he never felt that he was meeting too many people, and that every person that he met was sent to him by our lord,” Barres said of the late pope. “I want that direct contact. I want to experience the presence of Christ in the people of God.”
Catholics from Seaford and neighboring communities said they were honored to meet Barres at the Mass for the deanery, a group of parishes that includes St. William the Abbot; Maria Regina, also in Seaford; St. Frances De Chantal, in Wantagh; Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart, in North Merrick; Church of the Cure of Ars, in Merrick; St. Rose of Lima, in Massapequa; Our Lady of Lourdes, in Massapequa Park; and St. Barnabas the Apostle, in Bellmore. St. William parishioners said they were especially happy that the new bishop visited their church during its 90th anniversary year.
Barres, the bishop of Allentown, Pa., for the past 7½ years, succeeded Bishop William Murphy in leading one of the country’s largest dioceses, with 1.5 million Catholics in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Murphy, 76, had served as bishop since 2001. The Code of Canon Law states that diocesan bishops must submit their resignations to the pope when they reach age 75.
The 56-year-old Barres was appointed by Pope Francis and named bishop by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the U.S. apostolic nuncio, in Washington, D.C., last December. A native of Larchmont, N.Y., Barres became an ordained priest of the Diocese of Wilmington in 1989. He began his priesthood as an associate pastor at churches in Newark, N.J., and Wilmington, Del. After further study in Rome, he served as vice chancellor and then chancellor of the Wilmington Diocese.
Pope John Paul II named him a Chaplain to His Holiness in July 2000, with the title of Monsignor. Pope Benedict XVI named him a Prelate of Honor in November 2005.
Barbara Fuina, a Massapequa resident who has been a parishioner at St. William for 53 years, said that Barres has breathed new life into the diocese. She added that she was honored to serve as an usher for the deanery Mass.
“He has a true message of faith and camaraderie,” she said. “It was such an honor for him to come here during our 90th anniversary. This parish is very special because it is a community of faith, love and caring.”
Charles Wroblewski, the chaplain for Seaford American Legion Post 1132 and a longtime St. William parishioner, said that he, too, was happy that the bishop took the time to visit and preside over a Mass during a year of celebration for the parish community. He watched from a pew a few rows from the altar as Barres greeted Boy Scouts from Seaford Troop 690 and students from the St. William the Abbot and Maria Regina schools.
“He is an inspiration to people of all ages — the young and old,” Wroblewski said. “He’s a warm individual, so approachable and comfortable with people. He’s a good example of a shepherd leading and caring for his flock.”
Children were the first group Barres commended in his homily, saying he could see the light of the Holy Spirit in their eyes. He challenged the hundreds of Catholics in attendance to awaken the missionary spirit that he said should guide all people who practice the religion.
Barres said that he was inspired by the diversity of the parishes and people in the diocese, noting that he has had multicultural experiences in churches across the region. “Everyone brings something so beautiful to the symphony of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “I’m still having the beautiful adventure of discovery … understanding the rich variety and beauty of all of the different dimensions of the church’s life on Long Island.”
Brian Kacharaba contributed to this story.