For Deacon Barnes, priesthood ‘just made sense’

| May 28, 2020 | 0 Comments

Deacon Austin Barnes, 26, vividly remembers his first time as an altar server, as a fourth grader at Holy Trinity in South St. Paul. For one, none of the other servers showed up. And a visiting priest was saying Mass.

“So I had to learn really quickly,” he said. “But it was good because … I was much more attentive to what was going on and not so distracted by what I was supposed to be doing. And I really developed a strong love for the Eucharist and the sacraments.”

Deacon Barnes said he thought about the priesthood early on, and the interest developed naturally over time.

“It’s never been something jarring or involving a major life change,” he said. “For me, it just made sense. All the things in my life and the people around me have verified that.”

He recalled the influence of two priests in particular, including his childhood pastor, Father John LeVoir, now bishop of New Ulm, whom he admired for his kindness. He admires his current pastor, Father John Paul Echert, for his courage, willingness and commitment to teaching the faith. Deacon Barnes also remembers Wednesday night faith formation classes as one of the highlights of his week, wanting to take on the faith as his own and “really diving in and learning more about it.”

The reason he will become a priest is that God called him, he said, but also because he trusted those around him. “That’s how the call was confirmed for me,” he said — regular encouragement from people who knew him, telling him he’d be a good priest.

“The people in our lives are the ones who help us know what God wants from us,” he said.

We don’t all have “St. Paul moments,” Deacon Barnes said, referring to the story of St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus when he saw a brilliant light shine from heaven and fell to the ground, blind and converted.

“I’m more of a Peter,” Deacon Barnes said. “I’ve always been there, every once in a while you get afraid … but always, in the words of Peter, ‘Where else shall we go?’”

After graduating from South St. Paul High School, Deacon Barnes went to St. John Vianney College Seminary and graduated with majors in philosophy and Catholic studies. He then completed studies at The St. Paul Seminary.

From his seminary experience, Deacon Barnes said he learned two things in particular that he will carry with him: the importance of priestly fraternity, and the importance of prayer and study.

“Committing to regular prayer and staying fresh on your own studies — and making sure you read a good theological book now and again — is important,” he said. “Keep up-to-date on the education we’ve had so it can benefit those we serve.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Deacon Barnes spent more than two months this spring in a cloistered environment at the St. Paul Seminary, an experience he considers a gift.

“I’ve been given a really blessed opportunity,” he said, noting it gave him time to reflect and more easily focus on his priorities — that he was going to be a priest.

Days before his ordination, Deacon Barnes said he was filled with gratitude for the people he met at the seminaries, and those he got to know at parishes that have helped him prepare for ministry.

“So that’s a lot of gratitude for the process, but also for the gift of priesthood,” he said. “When you enter (the seminary), you want to be ordained tomorrow, and eight years felt like it would take forever.”

Then, when ordination is days away, the feeling became surreal. “But very grateful, very sobering,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement, some anxiety, but overall, I am ready to start my ministry.”

Deacon Barnes looks forward to his priestly involvement in the sacraments but also being part of a parish community. Even while working with his teaching parish, Mary, Queen of Peace in Rogers, he said it was difficult to truly become part of the community.

He described his approach to priesthood as a “ministry of presence.”

“What I have learned in seminary and meeting a variety of priests is that sometimes just being around is a lot — just being part of the regular parish ministerial life, whether doing Stations of the Cross or going to bingo,” he said. “And getting to know people and sharing life together.”

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Category: Ordinations