March 27, 2003
Come, Follow Me
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
Father Robert Barrett lives a long life of service
Father Robert Barrett died March 16. He was retired and living at the Tommy Coyne Residence for Priests in Syracuse. He was 91 years old. A Mass of Christian Burial was held at St. Patrick’s Church on Tipperary Hill on March 21. Both Bishop James Moynihan and Bishop Thomas Costello helped celebrate the Mass, along with brother priests including a Jesuit and a Franciscan.
A native of Solvay, Father Barrett attended St. Patrick’s School. He graduated from St. Mary’s College, Kentucky and Mt. Saint Mary of the West Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio in 1948. Although he did serve in parishes in Ohio, the majority of his priesthood was spent in India with Catholic Relief Services. He retired to the Syracuse Diocese in 1976 spending much of his retirement serving on a temporary basis in churches all over the diocese.
Father Barrett led an interesting life, one which led him to points all over the globe. His brother, Jack, was a Jesuit priest working in India when Father Barrett made the move to join him. Father Jack Barrett wanted to start a Catholic newspaper in India, but the Jesuits thought the climate at the time a little tumultuous for such an enterprise. Father Jack then appealed to his brother in Ohio, and Father Robert Barrett went to work putting the newspaper together in India. He raised money for the project eventually getting to know some decision-makers in Washington, D.C.
After the newspaper was up and running, Father Barrett took a position with Catholic Relief Services which led him to Karachi, Pakistan. Feeding the poor and the lepers, caring for their medical needs became his focus then. He eventually helped build the John W. McCormack Indo-American Hospital in Bangalore, India, a Catholic hospital in a country with 800 million people. Father Barrett worked closely with then-Ambassador to India, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan to make the project a reality.
Father Barrett also served in Saigon where he lived near the president’s palace. He was injured during the fall of Saigon and came back home shortly afterward. Remembered as a “character,” Father Barrett was extremely proud of the work he had accomplished in his lifetime and loved to talk about, and write about, the hospital he helped found back in India. At the funeral Mass, Bishop Moynihan said, “I’ll miss his correspondence. I was on his mailing list and he told me all about the work he did. In Chapter 25 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us how the score ends … about those who served the hungry and poor and those who didn’t. Father Barrett must have read that chapter very carefully because that’s what he’s done all his life.”
Father J. Robert Yeazel, pastor of Holy Cross Church in Dewitt, gave the homily at the Mass. He knew Father Barrett well and spoke about his service to the poor. He spoke about how Father Barrett lived his life asking where the Lord would lead him next, always capitulating to that call. He said Father Barrett walked into the chancery one day after he had retired to Syracuse and said, “I’d like to work. The Lord has said to me every day of my life, ‘Let’s keep moving.’ Please put me to work.”
So Father Barrett spent the last 20-plus years of his life getting reacquainted with folks across the diocese and traveling to New York City to visit his brother. He was always ready to serve, always willing to go where he was needed. Father Yeazel said that Father Barrett said to Bishop Moynihan, “Please put me back in coach. I’ll pitch any place.”
Forty-odd years is a mighty short time, but a hell-of-a-life if ya git out o’ line; Ya can’t start all over by preachin’ again, ‘cause folks no longer believe in sin. Can’t teach no more like it used to be, that sin all began under the old apple tree. Ya could scrare the h-ll out of bad folks then, with stories like Daniel in the lion’s den; Then there was Noah ‘n the great big flood when the Lord scrubbed man out and began with new mud. Now all’s love and kisses, handshakes and peace, as clerics get married and layfolks decrease. ‘Twas pretty good before Vatican II, ya knew where ya stood and what not to do; Five lil’ martinis was ‘materia gravior’ Canon Law said ‘twas sinful if you drank more than four. Don’t think I’ll stray from the old wagon trail, but hang on to the end … and pray not to fail.
Father Robert Barrett