A Priest’s Mission He Never Talked About

The following commentary recently appeared in the Catholic Star Herald, a publication of the Catholic diocese in Camden, New Jersey. It was written by Monseigneur Ciaran P. O’Mearain.

One year ago Father James Barry, retired pastor of Salem, died in the Lord. Priests are easily forgotten and their good deeds “oft interred with their bones.” But, for me, there was a defining event in Father Jim’s life rendering him forever memorable. . . .

During the troubles in Northern Ireland, 1968-98, there was a period of internment, 1971-75, during which 1,981 young people, mostly from the Catholic minority, were arrested and imprisoned without trial. Unfortunately, internment only led to outrage in the minority community.

It was during the internment period Father Barry spent his vacation at my sister’s home in Belfast. He went out every day, trailed by an army helicopter, to visit those distraught young people who languished in jail. It was a dangerous undertaking, and a secret mission he shared with no one.

It was only after his return to America my sister began to receive calls from parents of the interned thanking her for Father Barry and the consolation he brought to their sons and daughters.
In death he was embraced by the One who was also arrested, who stood with people of little significance; pushed off the road of life and relegated to the margins. Perhaps He whispered gently into Jim’s surprised ear: “I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt 25:36).

* * * * *

I was grateful to read this piece, because Father Barry was my Uncle Jim.  I remember discussing many aspects of the Irish situation with him during the period Msgr. O’Mearain refers to. Uncle Jim shared his prodigious knowledge of the religious, political and historical aspects of the Troubles. Although I knew that Uncle Jim traveled to Ireland many times during and after this period, I cannot recall him ever mentioning these secret missions.

A high school classmate of mine who knew Uncle Jim, Bill Tillinghast, sent this clipping on to me with this note: “A seemingly simple mission to minister to the imprisoned, but in context as dangerous as any Ranger or Recon mission.”  Thanks Bill. I’ve forwarded it to all my siblings and cousins and wanted to post it here as a tribute to my late Uncle and perhaps an inspiration for others.

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1 Response

  1. Theresa Guidotti says:

    Monsignor O Mearain is a friend of mine. I came across your posting and was happy to hear Monsignor’s article in the Star Herald brought some information and inspiration to the family of Father Barry. Although I did not know Father Barry, his story is one to be remembered as he truly was a holy man.