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The Point to the Priesthood

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

By: Daniel Patrick Sheehan, The Morning Call

Monsignor John Barres' life must feel as unsettled as the weather of these late June days. He carries an awkward interim title -- Bishop-elect Barres -- and tries to tend to the daily duties of his office even as he prepares to leave it for good and assume command of the Catholic Diocese of Allentown.

Barres [pronounced Bar-riss] will become the fourth bishop of the diocese on July 30 and perhaps the first to find as much inspiration in a secular saint, Abraham Lincoln, as in more typical representatives from the heavenly rolls. The martyred president's name arose time and again in a daylong interview at his chancery last this week and in the homily of the noon Mass he celebrated in St. Joseph on the Brandywine, a handsome 1840s church built with the pennies of immigrant Irish workers in DuPont's blasting powder factories.

''Look at the virtues of Lincoln,'' Barres said, urging appreciation of the man through the lens of the Beatitudes, Christ's lessons of mercy and forgiveness from the Sermon on the Mount.

After all, Barres told parishioners, Lincoln was the president who ordered a military band to play ''Dixie'' out of respect for a vanquished foe. It's a perfect symbol of the kind of conciliatory outreach -- to other faiths, to the dispossessed, to abuse victims -- Barres considers essential to mending the fractures of a troubled world.

By all accounts, the bishop-elect is a man of quiet holiness and genial charisma who sometimes flirts with exhaustion from overwork in minding the umpteen tasks of a diocesan chancellor, which have ranged from mundane administrative errands to overseeing the installation of the bishop.

''An indefatigable worker,'' said Monsignor Joseph Rebman, St. Joseph's pastor and a longtime mentor to Barres. The monsignor warned, perhaps half-seriously, that Allentown shouldn't grow overly accustomed to its new bishop -- another way of underscoring Barres' rapid rise through the episcopal ranks. He is only 48, which won't make him the youngest bishop in the country but surely puts him near the top of that list. Who knows what's to come?

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