Father William Barbee’s grace-filled journey came to its long-awaited destination on Oct. 24 with his ordination to the Diocesan priesthood.
A husband, father, grandfather and former minister in the Church of Christ and priest in the Episcopal Church, Father Barbee became a Diocesan priest through the Laying of Hands by Bishop Ronald Gainer and the Prayer of Ordination, celebrated during the Rite of Ordination at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg.
Father Barbee’s formation for the Diocesan priesthood was possible through the Church’s Pastoral Provision, which provides a structure for the formation of married former Anglican clergy to be ordained Catholic priests.
Father Barbee and his wife, Cindy, are members of Prince of Peace Parish in Steelton. Since November of 2018, he has served as Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and lector, among other ministries, at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Harrisburg. As a priest, he has been assigned to serve at St. Theresa Parish in New Cumberland.
“What wondrous love God shows us, and what joy we all have in this precious gift,” Bishop Gainer said at Father Barbee’s ordination.
In his homily during the Mass celebrating the Rite of Ordination, the bishop fittingly shared words from a sermon by St. John Henry Newman, former Anglican theologian who joined the Catholic Church in 1845 and was ordained a Catholic priest two years later.
In one sermon among a collection entitled “Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations,” St. John Henry Newman said God entrusted men, not angels, to the work of preaching, sanctifying and teaching, “men whom grace, and grace alone, has made to differ from you.”
“Newman provides a rich meditation on the dignity of the priesthood and the unworthiness of each individual priest,” Bishop Gainer reflected. “His words make us marvel that Christ has found it fitting that this eminent ministry of the priesthood should be exercised by mere men, with all the flaws, faults and wrong-headed inclinations of every other man – but men who have been set apart and sanctified by grace, the sacramental grace of priestly ordination.”
A Grace-Filled Journey
Father Barbee sees the grace of God in his life, and in his journey to eventual ordination to the Catholic priesthood.
A native of Illinois, he was raised in the Church of Christ. He met his wife, Cindy, and they have two grown children, Holly and David.
Father Barbee began serving as a minister in the Church of Christ in 1980, in a small town in Indiana. After seven years there, he began graduate work and started questioning his faith while studying the full of Church History.
“That was the beginning of me questioning where I was,” Father Barbee told The Catholic Witness in an interview prior to his Oct. 24 ordination.
The questions and explorations continued. Joining the Army as a chaplain in 1987, he began having theological discussions with Catholic and Lutheran chaplains.
“I met people of different denominations, and found that I got along with the Lutherans and the Catholic priests more than anyone else,” Father Barbee said.
“I knew I had to move in my faith, and couldn’t stay where I was,” he said of that time in his faith journey. “I wasn’t running away from anything; I wanted to run toward something.”
During an assignment at Fort Hood, Texas, he and his wife began attending an Episcopal church. They fell in love with the liturgy and joined the Church, with Father Barbee changing his endorsement from a minister in the Church of Christ to a priest in the Episcopal Church; his ordination was in June of 1995.
Father Barbee continued his ministry in the Army Chaplaincy, serving in places such as Germany, Korea and South Carolina.
In 2012, he was assigned to the Carlisle Barracks, where he met the Catholic chaplain at the time, Father Gregory D’Emma, and began attending Mass as he again took stock of his faith journey.
“While serving in the Episcopal Church, it had become evident to me that it was a half-step, a turn in the right direction,” he said.
“Father D’Emma sat me down and we had a conversation. In the midst of it, he said, ‘You want to be Catholic, don’t you?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I do,” Father Barbee recalled. “Father D’Emma was, and still is, a wonderful influence in my spiritual journey. I think he was the right priest for me to meet at the right time, and moving to Carlisle was providential for my journey.”
He entered RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), and Cindy joined him as a means of support. She entered the Catholic Church on the Feast of the Divine Mercy at the Carlisle Barracks Chapel in 2015. He entered a few weeks later, on the Vigil of Pentecost.
He finally felt like he was where he belonged. And he considered taking his journey further, toward ordination to the Catholic priesthood.
“It came to a point where I had to say to myself and to Cindy, ‘I might never be a priest. That might not happen. But I know one thing for sure, I have to be Catholic.’”
Father Barbee retired after 28 years as an Army Chaplain in 2015. He and Cindy moved to Steelton and joined Prince of Peace Parish. They met Father Paul Schenck, who had been a minister in the Anglican tradition prior to his ordination as a Diocesan priest ten years ago.
The Pastoral Provision, established by the Vatican in 1980, provides a structure for the formation of married former Anglican clergy to be ordained Catholic priests. The Vatican created the Pastoral Provision in response to requests from clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church seeking full communion with the Catholic Church.
Father Barbee spoke about the provision with Father Schenck, who guided him through the process.
“Father Schenck has been influential with me. He is a very good priest, and a very thoughtful man. He guided me on the way,” Father Barbee said.
Father Barbee assembled a dossier to present to Bishop Gainer and to Rome, and began the Pastoral Provision process and studies in 2016. He expressed gratitude to his formators – Father James Lease, Father John Trigilio, Father John Szada and Father Schenck – for preparing him, especially for his seven-part written and oral tests with professors at Seton Hall last October.
Father Barbee began serving at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Harrisburg in November 2018, as lector, Extraordinary Minister, taking Communion to the homebound, and visiting classes at St. Margaret Mary School. He also expressed gratitude to Father Chester Snyder, former administrator, and Father Leo Goodman, pastor, for their leadership and support.
As a Catholic priest, Father Barbee’s first assignment is to St. Theresa Parish in New Cumberland.
“Throughout this entire journey, I wasn’t running from anything; I was just trying to run to something,” Father Barbee said. “I saw the fullness of the Catholic Church through history, through liturgy, but primarily through doctrine. Doctrinally, the Catholic Church has it. It has the authority. It has the magisterium. You can sink yourself into the Truth.”
“I feel total humility and joy in ordination,” he said.
“Everything about this ordination liturgy shouts loudly that sacramental grace abounds here, that something extraordinary is happening in the Church and for the Church,” Bishop Gainer said in his homily during the Rite of Ordination. “Indeed, the extraordinary is happening in our midst this morning; extraordinary in the rich liturgical actions of the ordination rite, and extraordinary in the person, in the one being ordained to the sacred priesthood.”
Members of Father Barbee’s family – including his wife and daughter – as well as clergy and parishioner friends he met along the way, celebrated the Rite of Ordination. Father Barbee’s son, David, and his son-in-law were able to see the ordination via livestream from their current assignments as members of the Armed Forces.
“Bill, the story of your life makes the extraordinary power of God’s grace abundantly clear,” Bishop Gainer told him. “Your vocation as spouse, father and grandfather; your generous dedicated response in your former ministry; your call to serve those who serve our nation in the military; your graced decision, along with Cindy, to enter into full sacramental communion with the Catholic Church; your discernment to seek ordination to the Catholic priesthood; and your willingness to make that rather long and arduous journey that has brought you to this day – all of this highlights how grace, and grace alone, directs and sanctifies the lives of the baptized.”
“You are now being entrusted with the three-fold priestly office, not for your own advantage, but for the benefit of others and the good of the Church’s mission,” the bishop told him. “By God’s grace and through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may your teaching, sanctifying and shepherding truly equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for the building up of the Body of Christ.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness