Wife encouraged him to be ordained so he could use ‘all my gifts’
Deacon Christopher Barrett was nearing the end of his formation to become a priest for the Congregation of Holy Cross when he met the woman who changed his life.
“I was in the seminary for seven years. The only thing left was final vows and ordination to the transitional diaconate,” he said. “I met a woman who is now my wife of almost 38 years, and I could not say forever to celibacy.”
While attending graduate school for theology, the rector of the seminary suggested that Deacon Barrett attend the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago for one semester to take special courses that were not offered at the University of Notre Dame. It was there that he met his now wife, Anne Gibbons, while she was working on her own Master of Divinity.
He and Anne, who has worked in ministry for her entire adult life, have three children.
Despite those years of preparing for priesthood, Deacon Barrett did not consider ordained service as a deacon right away.
“Because I had a Master of Divinity degree and I felt a calling to ministry, I worked as a lay minister for many years before even thinking about the permanent diaconate,” he said, noting that a Franciscan priest told him in 2005 that he should think about becoming a deacon.
At that time, Deacon Barrett was working full time as pastoral coordinator and senior pastoral associate at Resurrection, Moneta, where he was helping to prepare engaged couples for marriage and young married couples for the baptism of their children.
“I got to thinking that maybe I should be officiating at their weddings and performing the baptisms,” he said.
His professional life also included work as campus minister for four years, director of the Tabor Retreat Center for six years and executive director of the Lynchburg Peace Education Center for six years. He also worked with the Center for Community Development and Social Justice at Lynchburg College for four years.
According to Deacon Barrett, Anne made a “huge difference” in his decision to apply for diaconate formation.
“I have loved the Church my whole life and loved ministry in the Church,” he said. “I loved lay ministry, but my wife said I’m not using all my gifts, and if I was a deacon, I could use all my gifts.” Deacon Chris Barrett
Because he had a Master of Divinity, Deacon Barrett said he “had somewhat of a streamlined formation process through the diocese” when it came to diaconate formation.
He was ordained to the permanent diaconate by Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo on January 15, 2011, at his parish in Moneta.
He was assigned to that parish and served there for five years.
“I basically continued in the same position there but had additional responsibilities and additional opportunities as a deacon,” he said.
From 2016-2018, Deacon Barrett worked at St. Victoria, Hurt, and was a religion teacher at Holy Cross School, Lynchburg, his alma mater. The deacon’s family moved to the area from New York when he was 4 years old.
He has been in his current assignment at St. Elizabeth, Richmond, for four years.
Deacon Barrett explained that “the ministry of deacon is about assisting the pastor and to try to fit in with what the pastor believes is needed for the parish.” Father Jim Arsenault, St. Elizabeth pastor, wanted him to become involved with the social justice ministry.
Deacon Barrett works with TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More), which provides service to the Highland Park neighborhood, and RISC (Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities), a group of 23 congregations of different faiths that advocate for “justice with local issues of injustice.” He said that currently, RISC is “working very hard on the lack of affordable housing and on gun violence in Richmond.”
“And I stay involved in assisting our Comboni Missionary Sister, Sister Tiberh, who heads up our ministry with our African immigrant community,” he added.
The deacon has felt his Catholic faith grow through his ordained service. “I have grown in my faith through my membership at St. Elizabeth, where I am so inspired by the joy exuded by our people in spirit and in song, and especially by our immigrant parishioners as they work so hard to rebuild their lives as they resettle in America,” he said.
Deacon Barrett’s favorite part of his ministry is preaching – the gift that Anne “especially” wanted him to be able to use when she encouraged his application for formation.
“All three of my pastors in my 10 years have been very inclusive of me,” he said. “It’s really up to the pastor if the deacon is invited to preach, and all three of my pastors have invited me to preach regularly. So I do love it, and I’m very grateful for that.”
The deacon also expressed gratitude for the men who have served as mentors for him over the past decade: Deacon Bob Ewan, Deacon Mike Ellerbrock and the late Deacon Gordon Cartwright.
When he is not actively serving the Church, Deacon Barrett enjoys watching Boston Red Sox baseball and Notre Dame football. However, those interests come after three important people in his life.
“To tell you the truth, playing with my grandchildren is the greatest. That comes even before the Boston Red Sox,” he said with a laugh.