New Rockville Centre bishop was baptized by Fulton Sheen

by Elise Harris

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Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

On Friday, the Vatican announced that Bishop John O. Barres of Allentown – who was baptized by the famed Archbishop Fulton Sheen – will be taking the helm in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

“I must…thank the priests and the entire people of God of the Diocese of Allentown, where I have had the great blessing of serving as bishop for the last seven-and-a-half years,” Bishop Barres said in a Dec. 9 press release announcing his appointment.

“You will all always be in my heart, my memories, my prayers and my Masses as I remember our days of ‘holiness and mission’ together.”

A native of Larchmont, N.Y., Bishop Barres, 56, has led the Diocese of Allentown since July 2009, and will take over in Rockville Centre for retiring Bishop William Murphy, who has reached the age limit of 75.

His transfer will make him the first bishop of Allentown in their 55-year history to ever be transferred to another diocese.

The Rockville Centre diocese, which includes the Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, was established in 1957 and is the sixth largest diocese according to Catholic population in the U.S., serving 1.5 million Catholics with 291 active priests in 133 parishes.

According to the press release, Bishop Barres will be introduced to his new diocese by concelebrating with Bishop Murphy in Rockville Centre’s Cathedral of St. Agnes. He will be officially installed in the cathedral Jan. 31, 2017.

Until then, Bishop Barres will serve as diocesan administrator for Allentown. Once he makes the official transfer to Rockville Centre, Allentown’s College of Consultors, which consists of 10 senior priests in the diocese, will select a new administrator, who will serve until another bishop is appointed.

Born in 1960, Bishop Barres is the fifth of six children born to two Protestant ministers who met at Yale Divinity School and eventually converted to Catholicism in 1955, according to the bishop’s biography on the Allentown Diocese’s website.

Bishop Barres himself was baptized by then-Bishop Fulton Sheen in 1960. His father had been working for Sheen at the Propagation of the Faith in New York City.

The media-savvy archbishop – who served as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show and the television show “Life is Worth Living” – headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and served as an auxiliary bishop of New York and as bishop of Rochester before his death in 1979 at the age of 84.

Pope Benedict XVI authorized a decree that recognized the heroic virtues of the archbishop in 2012, allowing his cause for canonization to move forward. The process has been stalled for the past two years due to a diocesan dispute over his remains, however, it is expected to move forward again soon.

After completing secondary school, Bishop Barres graduated from Princeton University with a BA in English Literature before moving on to obtain a MBA in Management from the New York University Graduate School of Business Administration.

He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wilmington Oct. 21, 1989, by Bishop Robert Mulvee after studying in seminary at the Theological College of The Catholic University of America. He began his priestly ministry by serving as an associate pastor at different parishes throughout Newark and Wilmington.

Eventually Barres went to Rome for further study before returning to Wilmington, where he then served as Vice Chancellor and then Chancellor of the diocese.

The bishop’s theological background includes an STB and STL in Systematic Theology, which he got from The Catholic University of America, and a JCL in Canon Law and an STD in Spiritual Theology from Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

In 2000 St. John Paul II gave him the title “Monsignor,” and he was named bishop of Allentown by Benedict XVI in 2009 by Cardinal Justin Rigali, who was Archbishop of Philadelphia at the time.

As shepherd of the Allentown diocese, Bishop Barres launched a diocesan-wide society for lawyers, called the St. Thomas More Society, in an order to promote religious liberty. He also established a special program aspirant for young men considering the priesthood.

He was also instrumental in expanding the diocese’s Hispanic ministry, given the fact that the Hispanic population is one of the fastest growing in the diocese. He is also known for his strong social media presence, particularly on Twitter and a video blog he launched for the diocese.

Beyond his diocese, Bishop Barres has also served on the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, and since 2013 has held the role of Episcopal Liaison to the Pontifical Mission Societies.

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