~Boston's Priest of the Year (hat tip to Catholic Light)
When the Rev. David Barnes took over at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, he was the youngest pastor in the Archdiocese of Boston and the church was $748,000 in debt.
Nearly three years later, Barnes, now 35, is still the youngest pastor in the diocese. But the debt is gone, and so are doubts about the future of the city's largest Catholic church.
For presiding over that turnaround, Barnes was named priest of the year at the third annual Boston Men's Catholic Conference last weekend. More than 3,000 people attended the conference on Saturday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
Barnes was nominated by his parishioners and was selected as the winner by a five-person committee from among about 70 other priests.
"The fact that he was a rookie pastor and was able to pull that off tremendously impressed the committee," said Scott Landry, a co-founder of the Boston Men's Catholic Conference. "We were surprised he was able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time without much experience."
Barnes said he appreciates the award, but is also a bit embarrassed by the attention.
"All the good things here are because everyone's working together, not because of one person," he said.
Parishioners say Barnes deserves credit for stabilizing the church finances, but they say that is a mere byproduct of the spiritual impact he has had on the parish.
"The finances are a piece of it, no doubt," said Neil Corcoran, who is board president of St. Mary's School. "He's stepped into a somewhat challenging situation and has been instrumental in turning it around. But he's our spiritual leader, too, and that's what he does best. He has genuinely tried to bring people back to the church during a time that has been difficult for this diocese."
Since Barnes took over, weekly collections have gone from an average of $6,000 to $9,200, according to Augulewicz. She said Barnes has brought back such traditions as the annual 40-hour Devotion to the Eucharist and the Corpus Christi Procession. The downtown church, which was built in 1898, is also undergoing $300,000 in improvements, including the painting of its majestic upper church.
"I think his strength is that people are drawn to him and people become drawn to the church," Augulewicz said. "He's always giving us the opportunity to grow in our faith. And as people grow in their faith, they want to become more involved and are more invested in the church. People become more faithful and they give more."