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Word on Fire’s Barron “overjoyed and humbled” to be named bishop of Minnesota diocese

Bishop Robert Barron

Bishop Robert Barron | Facebook | Fair Use

Zelda Caldwell - published on 06/03/22

Pope Francis appointed the head of the media apostolate Bishop of Winona-Rochester on Thursday.

After much speculation in the media, it’s official: Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron, founder of the media apostolate Word on Fire, will become the next bishop of Winona-Rochester in Minnesota.

On Thursday Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop John M. Quinn, age 76, who, headed the southern Minnesota diocese for 13 years. Quinn had submitted his resignation to the Vatican last year, after turning 75, in accordance with canon law.

In remarks at a press conference introducing him as the new bishop of the Minnesota diocese of Winona-Rochester, Barron said he “overjoyed and humbled to receive this new assignment.”

“I look forward immensely to getting to know the good people, priests and pastoral ministers of the diocese,” said Barron.

The 62-year-old Chicago-native joked that one of his first thoughts upon learning of his appointment was about leaving balmy California for the Midwest and its brutal winter weather.

“I will have to brush off my Chicago winter coat, which has remained unused for the past six years in Santa Barbara!” said Barron.

Barron said, “The bishop of a diocese is, first and foremost, a spiritual father to the priests and people who have been entrusted to his care. My prayer this morning is that the Lord will give me the grace always to be a good father.”

Quoting Pope Francis, he said a bishop is “a shepherd with the smell of the sheep — out in front of the flock in one sense, leading the way, but also with the flock, giving encouragement, and in back of the flock in order to gather in those who have fallen behind.”

“I prayed for the grace to be just that kind of shepherd,” he said.

In introducing Barron, the outgoing Bishop Quinn said to much laughter, that he knew the diocese would be “trading up” with its next bishop, but “I just didn’t realize how high up were were going to be trading.”

Quinn said that he was “filled with joy” about the appointment of “a new shepherd with the heart of Christ.” 

A “great shepherd”

Ordained a priest in 1986, Barron served as associate pastor of St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Parish in Park Ridge Illinois, before earning his Doctor of Sacred Theology  at the Institut Catholique de Paris in 1992. He then taught theology at University of St. Mary of the Lake, a seminary in Chicago. 

In 2000, Barron founded Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, a multi-media evangelization initiative offering videos, commentary, blogs, podcasts, and classes on spiritual formation. In 2015, Pope Francis appointed Barron an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez called Bishop Barron “a man of prayer, with a fine intellect and a beautiful zeal to spread the love of Jesus Christ. I am certain that he will be a great shepherd for the family of God in Winona-Rochester.”

“I am very grateful for his service here in the Santa Barbara pastoral region over these past several years,” he said in a statement. “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.

Minnesotans welcome Barron

Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis welcomed Barron’s appointment in statement. “I have long admired his ministry and am delighted that he will now be bringing his rich experience and considerable gifts as a teacher and preacher to the people of southern Minnesota, building on the firm foundation that is Bishop John Quinn’s legacy after 13 years of faithful ministry,”  he said.

Barron’s appointment was the cause of great excitement among Minnesota Catholics, according to an article in The Catholic Spirit, the official publication of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul said, ““I think this is phenomenal news for us in Minnesota and certainly for our archdiocese,” and welcomed Barron, who he said was “an international figure who has evangelized all sectors of our society in such a powerful way,” reported The Catholic Spirit.

“He’s found a way to bring the Gospel to contemporary problems of our culture that is fruitful, that is loving and that is always true to the faith that has been given to us by the Church,” Naughton said.

Word on Fire fellow, Aleteia contributor, and Minnesota native Dr. Tod Worner echoed Naughton’s sentiment.

“I think he’s going to bring a profound enthusiasm for the new evangelization,” Worner said.

Word on Fire to continue

In a statement released by Word on Fire, Barron said that the work of the Catholic media ministry will continue.

“Through our gifted staff, we will keep bringing you regular videos, interviews, articles, sermons and daily reflections,” he said. “We will press forward with the Word on Fire Institute, the Word on Fire Bible series, the Liturgy of the Hours initiative, our many books and YouTube shows, and more exciting things coming down the pipeline.”

Word on Fire has been the recipient of some negative publicity of late. Several weeks ago two members of Word on Fire’s staff resigned in protest over the handling of an investigation into allegations inappropriate sexual behavior by a former employee.

After those allegations became public, Word on Fire issued a statement on its website explaining that the employee had been fired, and that the accusations did not involve members of the Word on Fire staff.

“As with any investigation of this sort, the process took time and required strict confidentiality in order to protect the reputations of those involved, to respect their right to privacy, and to ensure a fair and objective investigation,” the statement said.

“Word on Fire did not ignore or bury any accusations; rather, it took swift and decisive action to ensure that an independent investigation moved forward without interference.”

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