Msgr. William J. Barry

A conversation with Msgr. William J. Barry…

Here we offer some of the reflections/recollections gathered in a conversation with Monsignor on April 12, 2004 as he approached his 85th birthday and 60th anniversary of ordination.


Early Life…

The Barry Brothers of Akron, Ohio — Bob, Dave, Bill, Ted and Jack — were very close in age, about two years apart, and grew closer upon the death of their mother following the birth of Jack. Young Bill was four-years old at the time. The family was cared for by their father’s single sister, Bessy. She later married and had a girl, Betty Jane, who became the boys’ “little sister.” In 1927, their father traveled to California as the chief engineer for the construction of the B.F Goodrich plant in East LA. There is a street in that neighborhood named after him, Barry Street. He decided to remain in California and sent for his family. Meanwhile, he searched for a home that was walking distance from the church, the schools and the shopping district. He found a large rambling home that met all criteria in South Pasadena near Monterey Road and Fairview Avenue. Young Bill was seven years old.

Mr. Barry was active in the Holy Name Society for men, and the Barry brothers all served as altar boys. They were all also athletes, especially in swimming. Bob set a record in high school that they all tried to beat. Because of the difficulty of transportation, they all attended the local public high school. Bill had one year at a Catholic high school. The family vacationed in the summer at Seal Beach.

The oldest, Bob, attended Cal Tech in the engineering department, following his dad’s example.  Dave attended U.C. Berkeley, with Bill soon to follow. The brothers roomed together with several other boys. Over the course of trying to persuade the other boys to attend church services on a regular basis, the Barry brothers went searching for answers to questions about the Catholic faith. They were led to the Newman Center at the university.

On one occasion, Mr. Barry was visiting the boys at Berkeley. He took Bill out to a restaurant and questioned him at length about school and his plans for the future. Bill mentioned that while he was talking to his roommates about faith in God, he thought about the possibility of becoming a priest. Immediately, his father excused himself from the table and disappeared without explanation.  When he returned, he said that he had made an appointment for Bill with Fr. Pat O’Dowd, a close friend of the family. Fr. O’Dowd advised the young man to try the seminary which offered a good education whether he stayed or not.


Seminary days…

In 1940, Bill joined a class of 20 young men at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado. He was one of nine from the Los Angeles area who were sent there because they as yet had no background in Latin and required classes taught in English. Monsignor remembers the bishop’s speech that “the door of the seminary swings both in and out,” i.e. they were free to stay or leave as they felt the Lord was calling them. Fifteen in that class were ordained in 1944. Monsignor’s ordination took place in St. Vibiana Cathedral on May 28, 1944. Today, three classmates remain:  a retired abbot in Arizona; an Alzheimer’s patient at a local nursing home in Los Angeles; and Monsignor Barry.


First parish assignments…

Father Barry’s first parish was St. Joseph in Santa Ana. It was the end of the war, with GI’s returning to nearby military bases and young women coming to marry them. The parish sponsored three or four  weddings a week! The Los Angeles metropolitan area was radiating into new communities in Torrance, Alhambra, Glendale, Lakewood and the San Fernando Valley.

St. Mary’s in East LA (Boyle Heights) was his second home — an international community with Russian, Mexican, German, Irish and Jewish families. Father Bill taught young men tackle football to keep them from gang-banging in the “Zoot Suit” era. The Church strengthened small organizations such as the

I.A.F. founded by Caesar Chavez. To this day, Monsignor still meets regularly with former members of St. Mary’s CYO.


The Catholic Welfare Bureau, a.k.a., Catholic Charities

Father Barry served as associate director of Catholic Charities from 1953-63. He was sent across the country to recruit social workers fresh from graduate school to serve in the growing Los Angeles community. He recalls organizing socials for these candidates at the Catholic University of America with Father Roger Mahony who was a graduate student there. Among his recruits was Vivian Thomas who accepted a position and brought her young family out to Los Angeles on the strength of Monsignor’s charm. Her husband, Gene, did not yet have a job and neither was Catholic. They set forth in their unreliable station wagon on a journey that would bring both into the Catholic Church and, ultimately, service at OLA in the ordained diaconate.

A new pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption…

Monsignor says that Father Strange is his favorite priest because he accepted a transfer to Holy Name parish in Orange (which later became the cathedral parish). This made possible Father Barry’s assignment as pastor at OLA on Aug. 3, 1963. Too late, Father Strange realized that the Claremont parish was on the brink of a new day — with the influx of new parishioners due to the new construction of homes in north Claremont, the establishment of General Dynamics in Pomona, the founding of the Claremont School of Theology in 1960, and the winds of change carried by the Second Vatican Council. The sleepy outpost on the boundary of the archdiocese was awakening — the parish school (founded in 1955) welcomed the Felician Sisters in 1965 and a convent was provided for them, the parish community doubled in size and the school grew to two classrooms per grade. Many parish ministries and organizations were established, most notably OLA’s youth ministry.

Monsignor Barry speaks in glowing terms of the assistance he received from Fr. Tom Welbers in implementing the liturgical changes instituted by the Second Vatican Council. They had met in Rome while Monsignor Barry was Pastor in Residence at the North American College for one year (1972-73). While in Rome, Monsignor helped form the California Club consisting of 50 priests who — upon one occasion — greeted Cardinal Manning at the airport as he arrived to receive his red hat.

Monsignor Barry returned home to OLA with a renewed commitment to lay participation in the Church’s life, the Church’s mission of fostering justice and peace, and the movement toward ecumenical understanding and cooperation. The 1970's saw the foundation of the Vietnamese Community at OLA. In the 1980's Monsignor brought the Sanctuary Movement for Central American refugees directly to his parish community, and established the Spanish Sunday Mass. The 1990's were crowned with the dedication of the Msgr. William J. Barry Center for Education and Parish Life (1994-95).


A leader among leaders…

Monsignor Barry served the larger community, both in secular and religious circles, at many levels. He was first president (1972) of the Priest Senate, now called the Council of Priests. In 1984, he was drafted to organize inter-faith services for the Olympic athletes in Los Angeles by Msgr. Roy Vadakin who transported him out into the middle of Newport Bay in his putt-putt boat and dared him to refuse! He flourished in the ecumenical climate of Claremont with its many retirement communities, the Claremont Colleges and School of Theology, and visiting scholars, becoming president of the Pomona Valley Council of Churches (1982-83). He was the gracious host to the stimulating company of priestly graduate students who found a home at OLA. Other missions included the Cardinal McIntyre Fund for Charity, the Campaign for Human Development, and Los Angeles County and California State commissions on Racial, Ethnic and Religious Violence.


Retirement...what’s that?

In retirement, Monsignor tended to old friends and his extended family, kept abreast of Catholic news through reading, visited the sick, returned to OLA upon occasion, welcomed guests at Newport Beach and served at monthly Engaged Encounter weekends. 



Born into eternal life

Msgr. William J. Barry went to his heavenly reward on March 18, 2007. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Pomona.