The Rev. Michael Barber will become bishop of Oakland, ending a seven-month stretch without a permanent diocese leader and becoming the first Jesuit priest appointed by Pope Francis.
Barber, who has family roots in the Bay Area, will be ordained May 25, taking the reigns of an ethnically and politically diverse diocese that stretches from Oakland to San Ramon.
"I am humbled to be the first Jesuit priest to be appointed bishop by a Jesuit pope," Barber said just hours after the announcement became public Friday. He is leaving a position as director of spiritual formation at St. John's Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston.
Barber said he planned to do what he could to symbolically show how the church can help the poor and marginalized.
"I'm keeping my eye on Pope Francis and what he did in his first days as pope because he was so warmly received around the world," Barber said. "I think he wants servant leaders ... who look to the needs of the people. Listen first, speak second."
That prompted enthusiastic nods from a number of diocese staff at a gathering Friday where Barber's appointment was announced.
"Transition is not easy," said Cielo Brancoa, a diocese employee. "We're ready to support (Barber) and be a family again."
The last bishop, the Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, was appointed archbishop of San Francisco in July. Since then, the Most Rev. Alex Brunett, archbishop emeritus of Seattle, has served as administrator for the diocese.
The appointment was something of a homecoming for the 59-year-old Barber.
His father was born in Oakland and his mother in San Francisco. Barber grew up in San Francisco, Novato and Sacramento. However, he has served outside of the East Bay for much of the four decades since he entered the Society of Jesus Jesuit seminary in Santa Barbara.
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1985 by Archbishop John Quinn at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco and continued his studies in Rome. He speaks Italian, French and Samoan and can conduct Mass in Spanish.
In 1991, he became a commissioned officer in the Navy Reserve, achieving the rank of captain in 2012, and has served as a chaplain to several Marine divisions.
Barber also served as director of the School of Pastoral Leadership in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and taught at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park.
As the chief executive for the Oakland Diocese, Barber will oversee the administrative and financial details of the sprawling diocese that has struggled financially after the costly building of the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland.
Standing in a conference hall inside the downtown Oakland cathedral on Friday, Barber said he would call on staff and colleagues to help him with the administrative side of his job, with which he has had little experience.
Barber also will be responsible for setting the spiritual direction of the diocese to reflect the official opinions of the Catholic Church, which supports immigration reform and opposes gay marriage, female priests, abortion and the death penalty.
"I'm here to help," he said. "I'm here to help so that the people in the pews can carry out their mission according to Vatican II of bringing Christ's light and his love."