Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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‘My hope is to help them ask the right questions’
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the Oct. 5, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
Father Dan Barnett is the diocese’s new Vocations Director. (IR photo)
Recently, Father Daniel Barnett, pastor of Spokane’s St. Francis Xavier and St. Patrick parishes, was named Vocation Director for the Diocese of Spokane.
In doing so, Father Barnett says, he dons one of the several hats previously worn by Bishop White Seminary’s rector, Father Darrin Connall. “So that will free up some of his time to give to other responsibilities,” the new Vocation Director said.
In his new role, Father Barnett recalls his own experience of discerning a vocation to the priesthood.
“The word that keeps coming to mind,” he says, “is ‘circuitous.’ I was all over the map, frankly.”
Growing up in Kennewick, Wash., young Barnett thought seriously about the priesthood while in high school. “I was sincere,” he says, “but it was not well discerned. I was immature. I didn’t have the depth of ability to discern at the time.”
Following high school, the future priest attended Gonzaga University and, he says, “put the idea of the priesthood on the back burner. I explored a lot of different fields and activities – some good, some bad. Many bad. In any event, I left it on the back burner and found that I liked ballet. It was a kind of avocation, if you will; I thought that’s what God wanted me to do.”
After receiving a degree in Management from Gonzaga in 1988, Daniel Barnett became a member of a Spokane ballet company, a very athletic pursuit. During that time, the future priest’s various “day jobs,” to pay the bills, included driving a cab (“My parents were really proud,” he says with a chuckle), working in a supermarket, grooming horses and cleaning out stalls. He also “learned a lot about people,” Father Barnett says, “things I didn’t learn at Gonzaga, and I don’t regret it. I met a lot of unsavory characters and a lot of unsung heroes.”
But, he says, during those years, “again, and again, and again, that little thought kept coming back, ‘be a priest.’ I thought it was just naiveté coming back from earlier days. I wasn’t living a good, moral life, frankly, and I would just chalk it up to romanticism or watching too many Bing Crosby movies. Basically, I tried to run, and that’s what I did for a bunch of years. Then it got more insistent and persistent. Priests that I knew encouraged me to apply to the seminary, which I finally did. I was accepted – much to my chagrin, because it would have been easier if I didn’t have to.”
In 1995, the future priest left the ballet company, entered Bishop White Seminary, and began work on a master’s degree in Philosophy. “I took a heavy, heavy course load,” he said. “I did a calendar year worth of classes and got my master’s in that year, wrote a thesis and the whole bit. Then I was sent to Rome for four years and got ordained in 2000. I was sent to Pasco for my first two years, and I learned Spanish there, then in 2002 I was assigned to St. Francis Xavier and St. Patrick here in Spokane, as pastor of both of those parishes. Then this past year the bishop asked me if I would be the Vocation Director.”
It is Father Barnett’s responsibility to help young men discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood, and then with the process of applying to the seminary – the psychological evaluation, and so forth. “Once they have been accepted, then Father Connell takes over,” he said.
Father Barnett makes a point of the fact that he is “really new” as vocations director. “I don’t have any definite plans right now,” he says. “I want to learn. We have a very successful program for recruiting priests. Father Connell has done an outstanding job. Our seminary, which is full, is ample evidence of that. So something good is happening. I’m taking it slowly, I’m trying to learn the possibilities and the responsibilities of the position. Ultimately, it’s God’s work. I see my job as trying to help young men discern the priesthood, so that’s what I’m going to focus on. We have a good, solid discernment program right now, and I’m want to learn that program and continue to implement it.”
With that goal in mind, Father Barnett plans to visit each of the diocese’s Catholic elementary and high schools in the next couple of years. “In particular, I want to let young men know about the presence of the Vocations Office in the Diocese of Spokane,” he said. “Second, I want to provide for formation for those who are in positions of guidance – pastors, teachers, counselors – to give them some understanding of what a priestly vocation looks like, some of the characteristics, but also what the discernment process is – how you help someone to discern. It’s my firm conviction, as a pastor, that it’s my job to try to foster the vocation of every one of the faithful entrusted to me – they aren’t mine, they’re Jesus’. God calls each and every person. We have a call through our baptism, a fundamental call to be holy, and the specific form that takes – married life, single life, priesthood – that takes a lot of discernment.”
Father Barnett explains that the term “discernment” comes from the Latin word for “to cut away.” There is, he says, “a lot that needs to be cut away in our society, a lot to be filtered out, to provide an opportunity for people to discern. It’s not that modern culture is all bad, that’s not it, it’s just that some things are less helpful, and some things are downright damaging to one’s vocation, whether it’s the vocation to the priesthood, or the Religious life, or the married life. So part of my role is to help teachers, parents and others learn how to discern vocations of whatever kind. Writ large, I would say that the goal that I have is to help foster a culture of discernment in the diocese. I can’t do it by myself, but I can help provide formation for those who are forming others, and I can provide resources.”
Working with vocations directors from Religious communities and from the diocese’s deacon formation program, Father Barnett says, will be an important part of his role as Vocations Director for the Diocese of Spokane. “If we’re all on the lookout for what God wants each of us to do,” he says, “then the vocation crisis is over. If everyone is asking, ‘What does God want me to do? How may I serve him?’ then we’re there. If a young person says, ‘I don’t know what God wants me to do, but I think it’s this,’ then we’re asking the right questions, and if you ask the right question then you’ll get a better answer. My hope is to help them ask the right questions.”
(Contact Father Barnett at 326-3761, or 487-1325.)