By Eileen Connelly, OSU
Bitter cold and snowy roads could not overshadow the warmth and joy at Holy Family Church in Oldenburg, Indiana, as Br. John Barker, OFM, was ordained to the diaconate during Mass on Jan. 20. Archbishop Charles C. Thompson presided at the liturgy, with concelebrants Brothers Mark Soehner, OFM, Provincial Vicar of the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe; Provincial Councilors Roger Lopez, OFM, and Ed Tlucek, OFM; Carl Langenderfer, OFM, pastor of Holy Family; and Max Langenderfer, OFM.
“What a great day, a joyful day, for the Church universal and local, and especially for the Franciscan community,” said Archbishop Thompson at the start of Mass. “We’re grateful for Br. John’s willingness, his readiness to give himself in this special way. He comes with so many gifts and talents, and we’re grateful for all that you share for the sake of the people of God.”
It was another step on the journey of faith, of seeking God’s purpose for him, which originated for Br. John in the late 90s, when he was living in Charleston, South Carolina, and working in the restaurant industry. “I had been experiencing a strong revival in my Catholic faith. I was also at a period in life when I was examining what life is all about – its meaning, purpose, those sorts of things,” he explained.
Br. John and Archbishop Thompson were all smiles after Mass. (Photo courtesy of Br. Frank Jasper)
Archbishop Charles C. Thompson blesses Br. John during the ordination ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Br. Frank Jasper)
Br. John greets the Starost family, from left, Brandy, Jacob, and Bill, as they bring up the gifts during Mass. Br. John has worked with Brandy and Bill in Holy Family’s RCIA program, in which they have served as sponsors. (Photo courtesy of Br. Frank Jasper)
One day, while attending Mass at the Charleston cathedral, the rector approached Br. John and asked if he had ever considered becoming a priest. “It had never crossed my mind. I had never thought of myself as the priestly type,” Br. John admitted. “But I thought I should at least talk to someone about it.” After several meetings with a representative from the diocesan Vocations Office, he felt more drawn to religious life than the priesthood and sent inquiries to a number of communities. The Franciscans of the legacy St. John the Baptist Province in Cincinnati were one of only two groups to respond.
“God led me down a path I wasn’t expecting to go, until something felt right. The rest is history,” said Br. John, who made temporary vows in 2000, and solemn profession in 2004. He acknowledges feeling a call to the priesthood at the time, but not a strong one. He attended Catholic Theological Union, where he was on the ordination track, and earned a Master of Arts/Master of Divinity in theology and biblical studies. A strong interest in Old Testament studies led Br. John to the doctoral program at Boston College, earning his PhD in 2016, while also teaching at CTU. Br. John has been a regular contributor to Weekday Homily Helps for Franciscan Media, published articles on the Gospels and is the co-author of Living the Word: Scripture Reflections and Commentaries for Sundays and Holy Days.
Br. John left CTU in 2020 ready to being a new discernment process. On Aug. 4, the feast of St. John Vianney, for whom Br. John has always had great reverence, “I was praying, and suddenly it popped into my head that it’s time to pursue the priesthood. I thought, ‘maybe this is God guiding me.’” With the support of Br. Mark, then-Provincial Minister of St. John the Baptist Province, and the SJB Provincial Council, of which Br. John was a member, he began more intensive discernment, ultimately leading him last year to Holy Family Parish, where the Franciscan presence is decades strong and the faith of parishioners runs deep.
“I realized how excited I was about this, and the call to the priesthood began to feel like a very natural outgrowth of my teaching experience and love for the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation,” Br. John said. “It took me many years to get here, to grow spiritually myself, but I needed those years to really be immersed in the Catholic world. I feel a very strong evangelizing impulse, which I think came out in my teaching. I really believe in our Catholic faith, in God, in the Scriptures, and have a great love for the liturgy. I want to share that, to serve God and God’s people.”
During his homily, Archbishop Thompson spoke of the transformation the Franciscan community, like many religious communities, has undergone in recent years, along with the individual transformation each person experiences. “No doubt Br. John is experiencing a range of thoughts, feelings, hopes and uncertainties, perhaps, about his future from this day forward, but with great confidence in the Lord and in his community,” he said. “The grace of Holy Orders does not somehow negate the humanness of the ordained minister. Such grace, however, does enable a deacon to cherish his life and ministry as immersed in service to the people of God."
Br. John prostrates before the altar. (Photo courtesy of Br. Frank Jasper)
Friars, Poor Clare Sisters and parishioners share in the joy of Br. John’s ordination to the diaconate. (Photo courtesy of Br. Frank Jasper)
From left, Brothers Mark Soehner, Provincial Vicar, John Barker and Max Langenderfer at Mass. (Photo courtesy of Br. Frank Jasper)
“Our baptismal call to holiness and mission necessarily involves the willingness on the part of every Christian to embrace the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” the archbishop added. “Those called to Holy Orders are to do with a particular life and witness of imitating the life of the crucified and risen Jesus. The ontological change of being ordained is a transformational moment that continues throughout the life of the ordained minister, impacting both his place in community and before God.”
The celebration was “wonderful for me,” Br. John, said, “not only because of the ordination itself, but because so many parishioners from Holy Family came. I was really honored by that. Also, several friars from out of town came down, and I was grateful and honored by their fraternal support, as well as several friars and the Poor Clares from Cincinnati. I served at Mass this morning (Jan. 22) and all went well. I was glad to be able to preach at last, and I had a great time doing it.”
Br. John will continue to serve the diaconate at Holy Family. A date for ordination to the priesthood will be set in the future. For now, Br. John is happy to be among the friars and faith community in Oldenburg, praying and preaching, listening and learning, as they grow in God’s love together.
He has the following words of wisdom for other men discerning a call to Franciscan life: “If someone were to come to me, I would say based on my own experience that I became Franciscan while I was a Franciscan. I’m still becoming Franciscan. You’re never done. Be open to what God has in mind for you. Be a person of prayer, have a relationship with God, come to know Jesus. You can’t go anywhere if you’re not doing that.”
Is God calling you or someone you know to become a Franciscan friar? Our Franciscan Vocation Ministry Team is here to support you. Learn more about becoming a friar.