Michael Barbarossa ’14 answers some of our questions about becoming a priest and his journey though high school. Michael’s brother, Stephen Barbarossa ’09, is a teacher at Kennedy Catholic.
What is the best part of your vocation? Although I am not ordained as a priest yet, even in my ministry so far I have experienced the joy of bringing people closer to Christ. This vocation has introduced me to so many people (and places) that I would never have met on my own – it has broadened my relationships and changed me. Being a priest is personal in the deepest sense: as I will make God present to people through the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist and the forgiveness of sins, that encounter always invites me deeper into the Lord’s love and deeper into others’ lives. As I prepare for ordination, I have also loved preaching the Gospel and I am really looking forward to writing and delivering homilies.
When you think of your Lancer experience, what comes to mind? When I think of my time as a Lancer, the teachers come to mind first. I received an excellent education that prepared me very well for college, but I remember especially those that inspired a real love for their subjects by their own passion and flexibility: Mr. Seitz always finding a way for me to continue my Latin studies even when I was the only student, Mrs. Hunter and Mr. Mullen enlivening the AP curriculum with their strong personalities and firm but kind push for excellence, and even the bus drivers Dean and Mike always being so accommodating and friendly.
What motivates you in your daily life? My relationship with God and my desire to follow Jesus’ call is definitely my motivation and source of strength. Jesus has shown me that surrendering myself to his guidance opens up a decisive new direction and that adventure has been what sustains me each day. The people I have encountered in parishes have also given my life new meaning, as I am continually amazed by the ways God is at work in their lives. At the same time, I have witnessed a lot of suffering and loneliness and I want to bring them healing and communion with God.
Describe the goals you had for yourself after graduation. How did those goals evolve? After discerning my vocation for several years, especially during my last two years as a Lancer, my goal was to enter seminary and prepare for ministry as a Catholic priest. I believed that God was calling me to serve his people by proclaiming the Gospel and providing the Sacraments, a call which has reached greater clarity and peace in the six years that I have now been studying for the priesthood. I would say that this goal of serving Jesus and his Church has not changed, although my priorities have changed as I pursue it. Whereas academics and music were the commitments that shaped my day-to-day routine, prayer and the desire to go ever-deeper in my discipleship of the Lord now orients my life. Learning and the arts are still very important to me, but whereas I entered seminary with the goal of pursuing an advanced degree and making some sort of teaching or academic work a part of my priestly ministry, I now have a greater openness to serving in whatever capacity is needed and a greater desire for parish-based work.
Although I had been thinking about priesthood since eighth grade, most of my serious discernment occurred during my junior and senior years. Fr. Dolejsi was our chaplain at the time, as well as vocations director, meaning that he was responsible for helping young men explore the priestly life. I met with him during those two years and the combination of basic spiritual direction and practical answers that he was able to provide really facilitated my entrance to the seminary. I am thankful for his presence and continued guidance along this journey.
What is one thing you do just because you love it? When I was in grade school I began writing letters to our relatives who lived out of state, and over the years as I went to college and made friends from all over the country I began to spend a lot of time on old-fashioned correspondence. I love handwritten notes and postcards, not just for communication but also as an art form that is sadly on the decline. I don’t always expect a response, although it is always uplifting to find mail in the box. For me, letter writing has become a way to relax and reflect.
What are your hobbies? Music is definitely something that brings joy to my life. Since an early age I have played the piano and it has become a great way for me to relax and express my creativity. During my time as a Lancer, I became heavily involved with music ministry at my home parish. Music is not only a hobby for me, but also a way to serve. Each semester at Mundelein Seminary, I offer a short recital as part of a series featuring student and faculty musicians. I later took up the accordion and found that I enjoy it for its uniqueness as much as its musicality. It is a great conversation-starter, especially with kids. I also love the outdoors, skiing in the winter (both cross-country and downhill) and hiking and bicycling in the summer. I recently returned from two months of studying abroad and praying with my seminary class in the Holy Land. We followed the footsteps of Jesus from his childhood in Bethlehem and Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee where Jesus made Capernaum his home during his early ministry to finally his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. Near Jerusalem, I visited a biblical nature preserve and got to try my hand at herding a real flock of sheep. We also immersed ourselves in a study of the Scriptures and got to know some of the local students and families.
What is your favorite memory of high school? I studied Latin all four years and my memories of our classes with Mr. Seitz and Mrs. Crane were definitely a constant bright spot in my day. They taught with a real ability to make the language and its history come alive, most memorably through special events like toga parties and field trips but also through the passion and skill they brought to the classroom. It helped that the Latin community at Kennedy Catholic was fairly small, creating a real sense of camaraderie between students of different years. I can still hear Mr. Seitz reciting verb conjugations as he would point to the wall charts with his golf club and I have fond memories of working through Cicero’s speeches orally with him as we sipped hot chocolate and listened to classical music playing in the background.
What is the biggest challenge of being a seminarian? Proclamation of the Gospel is at the heart of what it means to be a priest, yet the reality of parish life often makes it difficult for a priest to reach those beyond the immediate circle of the most involved parishioners. I have certainly noticed this in parishes where I have served: that the people who most need pastoral care are the hardest to reach. I think this becomes even more challenging when we try to evangelize beyond the walls of the parish.
A little-known fact is that a parish’s “boundaries” include everyone in that area, not just the Catholics. But finding a way to serve and evangelize broadly, without neglecting the sacramental life of the parish, is very difficult.