ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS - “I love every parish in which I serve, but my home is really in the Bayshore,” said the Rev. Thomas Barry, as he began his duties as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Perpetual Help St. Agnes Parish.
Father Barry was recently assigned by Bishop David M. O’Connell to serve as assistant to the pastor, the Rev. Jarlath Quinn, in the parish that spans both Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, as well as parts of Middletown and includes both Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Highlands and St. Agnes in this community.
Ordained to the priesthood in 2017, Father Tom, as he invites parishioners to call him, comes to the parish armed with experience in churches in Burlington, Ocean and Mercer counties before coming to the parish not far from where he grew up in Hazlet and was a parishioner at St. Ann’s Church in Keansburg during his early and teen years. He graduated from Raritan High School before earning an undergraduate degree in criminal justice from Brookdale College, later a bachelor’s degree in administrative justice from Rutgers University, and ultimately master’s degrees in both Divinity and Systematic Theology.
Always an avid Catholic and for many years a teenager and young adult who attended mass every day, Father Tom spent a few years trying a variety of jobs from restaurant and auto parts stores management to construction work and security work as he traveled visiting widespread family from Florida to California.
He candidly admits he never thought he would be a priest although he volunteered and worked in a variety of positions helping others, including CCD instructor, lector and Eucharistic Minister at mass, and hospital ministry. He was living in Red Bank at the time and attended Mass at St. James and was impressed by the pastor, Monsignor Philip Lowery, who helped guide him towards making a decision on whether he wanted to consider the priesthood.
“I loved doing all the ministry work I could, I loved being able to help people, I loved being able to give to the Church with whatever my talents”, the friendly, outgoing fast talking priest said. “It’s amazing how much you can give, but you always get so much more back. God is so much more generous.”
Father also turned to Monsignor Michael Walsh at St. Mary’s in New Monmouth who helped him put aside any doubts he may have had and introduced him to the priests in Trenton who could guide him through the steps he would take to enter the seminary for six years, including the two master’s degrees he earned at Seton Hall University while at the Immaculate Conception Seminary on the campus there.
Father’s last parish before St. Agnes was St. Katharine Drexel in Burlington County where he began writing a spiritual piece for the parish every week. “I’m continuing that here,” he said, happily, noting a Journey through Easter appears both in the Sunday bulletin as well as the parish website every day. He has also downloaded all his past ‘journeys’ for all who want to read what he has written in the past. The Journey through Easter will last throughout the Easter Season until Ascension Thursday in May, he said, then added, “then we’ll start another Journey and I’ll ask the parishioners here what ideas they have for a “journey” they would like to take.
While at St. Katharine Drexel, as well as at the Mercer County parish where he also served, Father became involved in prison ministry and visits both the federal prison at fort Dix as well as state and county facilities on a regular basis, administering to those who are incarcerated.
Eager to serve wherever he can do the most good, Father said he has applied to be a chaplain in the Navy, but noted it is a long and involved process that may come sometime in the future. For now, he said, ‘I just want to be where God wants me, I want to do the best I can, and I am confident God will take care of that.”
As far as loving the parish, Father laughed again and said “How can you not? God puts love in a priest’s heart so he can share it with everyone through the sacraments and prayer. That is simply beautiful to me. I also know and love the Eucharist and the mass and feel God has given me this blessing so I can share it, so I can help others, so I can offer challenges to help bring people back into church and to encourage and help them. I believe that is my mission in life, and I know God will always be there to help me and to guide me to do it the very best way I can.’