As the sunshine returns in Irving, the University of Dallas is preparing to say farewell to two important fixtures of the university community: the class of 2021 and Fr. Thomas More Barba, O.P., B.A. ‘09, ‘10. Both the current senior class and the campus chaplain arrived together at UD in the fall of 2017.
Barba, whose assignment at UD was his first after ordination, announced on Palm Sunday that his Domincian provincial had reassigned him to serve as the director of the Catholic center at Tulane University in Louisiana.
Barba was thankful to return to UD, his alma mater, following his ordination, but he knows it’s time for him to move on.
“I have been thinking, reminiscing, it’s hard for me not to think about not being in the same place I did my undergrad. Thinking back to the summer I got here meeting the students who were participating in the O’Hara program,” Barba reflected. “[They] will always have a special place in my life as a priest, because I cut my teeth with them as a priest.”
“I am sad to leave,” Barba continued. “It has been a rough couple of months not knowing for sure, but trying to be open to that and not hold on to this in an unhealthy way.”
Barba doesn’t want to romanticize his role at UD.
“I have made a lot of mistakes. There are a lot of things I wish I had done better or I wish I had done more of. I think it’s important to acknowledge that and say that,” Barba explained. “I think at times it’s easy to romanticize a person when they’re leaving, but there are plenty of emails I never answered because I was exhausted or didn’t have time. A lot of need that was not met.”
Senior Spanish and psychology major John Bartee met Barba during his freshman orientation, but got to know him better through his involvement in campus ministry.
“Fr. Thomas More has been Christ to me in all the ways a spiritual father should. I feel so blessed to have gotten to know him over the past four years. The Holy Spirit definitely placed him in my life at the time I needed,” Bartee wrote in a text message.
Lisa Archuleta, senior biology major, appreciates the balance that Barba struck as a leader the past four years.
“He beautifully balances quoting both St. Thomas Aquinas and Mean Girls in a homily. It is an honor to call Father Thomas More my chaplain, spiritual Father, and friend,” Archuleta wrote.
“Father Thomas More is a kind hearted, loving, and nerdy spiritual Father. He listens to every person he encounters with a tender heart. The past 4 years I have seen him serve his community joyfully and selflessly.”
Barba explained that he incorporates pop-culture into his homilies to communicate the truths of the Catholic faith.
“It’s not just to get people’s attention or get people to smile by referring to the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Justin Bieber or Rihanna or all these other pop culture references, but it’s also delivered with a purpose to get people to understand and see the truths of the gospel and how we can point to things in our culture and say, ‘look, this is what you are longing for, you see this, you recognize this, it is perfected and fulfilled by being Catholic, and by receiving the Holy Spirit.’ That is magnifying,” Barba said.
Just as seniors like Bartee and Archuleta will be replaced by incoming freshmen, Barba will be replaced by a fresher face: Fr. Joseph Paul Albin, O.P..
Both Barba and Albin attended the same Dominican studium in St. Louis for a couple years, where they became good friends.
“He’s a few years older than me in religion, which means he entered religious life before me, but a few years younger than me in the natural world,” Albin said with a chuckle. “I was delighted when I found out that I would get him to be my first boss at my first priest job.”
Albin said he will mourn the departure of his brother, friend, mentor and boss.
“He’s made a very big impact on the school and taking on that role will be very challenging,” Albin explained.
“The greatest challenge will be that Fr. Thomas and I are very different people. We are very good friends, but we are very different people,” Albin said. “There are people I think that he appealed to that I may not and there are people that I may appeal to that he did not.”
“I may not be able to do all the same things that he did in the way he did them,” Albin said. “So I worry about that because I don’t ever want to be someone who pushes someone away from the church.”
Albin described Barba as a mentor who has taught him how to understand his own vocation.
“He has taught me a great reverence for the sacramental life of the Church and a deepening of my own priestly identity,” Albin said. “He very much understands himself as a priest and I am just beginning that journey.”
Barba wants the community to welcome Albin with grace.
“He’s not me. His priorities, his ways of doing things, his decisions about what we are going to do with the Church and on campus ministry is not going to be me. I ask the students and everyone to give him the grace to not be Thomas More. To let the Holy Spirit work through him so that he can be the priest and Dominican that God wants him to be,” Barba said.
During his tenure, Barba started the 5 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday Masses, moved the Tabernacle to the altar and navigated the distribution of sacraments during a global pandemic.
“Do not expect everything to stay the same,” Barba advised. “So yes, please remember me, please pray for me, but also be open to what Fr. Joseph Paul is going to do.”