After nearly seven years serving as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a new chapter in Bishop Robert E. Barron’s ministry as one of the Catholic Church’s most recognizable evangelists has begun halfway across the country.
On July 29, the 62-year-old Chicago native was formally installed as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Rochester was filled with friends, family members and hundreds of local faithful, along with 25 bishops and cardinals and the more than 100 priests and deacons.
Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, were among the prelates in attendance. The nuncio was there as the representative of Pope Francis, who appointed Bishop Barron to the post June 2.
The invitation-only Mass was livestreamed and also was broadcast by the Eternal Word Television Network, Real Presence Radio and Bishop Barron’s own Word on Fire Catholic Ministries website.
“My heart is overwhelmed with joy and with gratitude today,” Bishop Barron said during the Mass.
In his remarks, Archbishop Pierre told the bishop, “You have brought with you an uplifting spirit … and have unveiled yourself to countless people who thirst and hunger to satisfy themselves with the message of the good news.”
Citing Bishop Barron’s episcopal motto, “Non Nisi Te Domine” (“Only You, Lord”), Archbishop Pierre said the core of the prelate’s ministry of evangelization and preaching has helped countless people want God before anyone or anything else.
“May your witness as a good shepherd, and may your preaching and writing always reflect the same spirit which you communicate to your people,” the nuncio told Bishop Barron.
Bishop Barron’s new mission brings him to a 12,000-square-mile diocese with more than 100,000 Catholics in 107 parishes spread across Minnesota’s 20 southernmost counties.
Winona is home to St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a Catholic liberal arts college founded in 1912, and Rochester is home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic.
The diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2018, and in 2021 announced a $21.5 million settlement with survivors of sexual abuse as part of a court-ordered reorganization plan.
In his homily, Bishop Barron said that his threefold plan for the members of the diocese was represented by Martha, Mary and Lazarus, whose feast the church was celebrating that day.
His plan is to worship God alone; to care for the poor and those whom Jesus loves; and to evangelize others after being “unbound” by Jesus.
Referencing Pope Francis, his longtime mentor the late Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, and singers Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, Bishop Barron called on those in attendance with humor and sincerity to become close friends of Jesus Christ.
“The task that’s been entrusted to me today by the Holy Father is to facilitate the process by which the people of this diocese become ever more deeply friends of Jesus,” Bishop Barron said.
Back in Southern California, those who worked most closely with Bishop Barron during his time in the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Santa Barbara pastoral region said he brought a special kind of energy that will be missed.
In the early 2000s, Msgr. Jon Majarucon was pastor at Santa Clara Church in Oxnard when — via then-Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Gustavo García-Siller, one of his St. John’s Seminary classmates — then-Father Barron of Chicago and his Word on Fire evangelization ministry came to his attention.
Bishop Gustavo, now the archbishop of San Antonio, “told me great things about Father Barron,” said Msgr. Majarucon, who soon tuned in to his podcasts and weekly homilies. “They were wonderful, and I started telling people, ‘You need to hear this fellow.'”
In 2015, Pope Francis named Father Barron an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles for the Santa Barbara pastoral region, much to the delight of Msgr. Majarucon, who is now pastor of St. Raphael Church in Goleta, California.
“When he arrived,” recalled Msgr. Majarucon, “people said, ‘Hey, wait a minute. This is the guy we’ve heard about. He’s like a modern-day Fulton Sheen. And he is our bishop!'” (Archbishop Sheen was known for his preaching and especially his work on television and radio.)
Over his seven years in the archdiocese, Bishop Barron came to be known not only for his powerful preaching and deep commitment to faith, but for his personal warmth, friendliness, and accessibility.
“From a professional perspective, Bishop Barron upped our game,” said Noel Fuentes, pastoral associate at San Roque Church in Santa Barbara, who served as an assistant to Bishop Barron when he first arrived in his regional office. “He deepened our theological understanding of church teaching, and why we believe what we believe.”
But on a personal level, Bishop Barron made it evident that “every single person matters to him,” Fuentes told Angelus, the online news site of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
“When he expresses gratitude, it’s real because he knows the challenges people face and he appreciates their kindnesses,” he said.
Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said he is certain that Bishop Barron “will be a great shepherd for the family of God in Winona-Rochester.”
The archbishop ordained Bishop Barron in 2015 at age 55, together with the other two of the so-called “triplets” named auxiliary bishops for Los Angeles at the time, David G. O’Connell and Joseph V. Brennan, who is now the bishop of Fresno, California.
“I am very grateful for his service here in the Santa Barbara pastoral region over these past several years,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Personally, I am going to miss him, and so will the people of Santa Barbara and all of us in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”
The people of the region have observed, with awe, Bishop Barron’s ability to balance and maintain a hectic schedule filled with regional responsibilities, including confirmation Masses; U.S. bishops’ committee obligations; and his Word on Fire ministry.
“His schedule is insane,” chuckled Fuentes, one of several regional representatives who traveled to Minnesota for Bishop Barron’s installation. “The people of Winona-Rochester won’t know what hit them, in a good way, because he is a dynamo.”
Bishop Barron launched Word on Fire Catholic Ministries in 2000 and has been broadcast extensively throughout the world. His 10-part documentary, “Catholicism,” aired on public television in the United States.
He is the first priest since Archbishop Sheen to have a regular national program on a commercial television network.
Bishop Barron has over 3.1 million Facebook followers, 527,000 YouTube subscribers, 351,000 Instagram followers and over 205,000 Twitter followers.
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Nelson writes for Angelus, the online news site of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Kay is editor-in-chief of Angelus. Contributing to this story was The Central Minnesota Catholic, the magazine of the Diocese of St. Cloud.