Bishop Gerald R. Barnes was appointed the second Diocesan Bishop for the Diocese of San Bernardino on December 28, 1995. He was installed by Cardinal Roger Mahony on March 12, 1996 at the Riverside Convention Center.
Bishop Barnes continued the Diocesan Planning Process that had started under Bishop Phillip Straling with the development of a Diocesan Vision: “We, the Church of San Bernardino, are a community of believers in Jesus the Christ, called to impact family, neighborhood, and society with the Gospel so that people’s lives are filled with hope.”
Bishop Barnes announced five focus areas derived from the Planning Process to be implemented over the next five years: Family, Youth, Stewardship, Leadership and Organizational Structures. A new Office of Pastoral Planning would assist with the implementation of these areas.
Responding to the needs of the priests in the Diocese, Bishop Barnes created a new position, Vicar for Clergy; Rev. Ronald Larkin, MSC, was the first appointee. A new bilingual Ministry Formation Institute (MFI) was developed in 1998 to continue the formation of lay parish ministers.
The year 2000 was a special year in the life of the Diocese. About 2,200 people attended the Jubilee 2000 Eucharistic Congress held at the Ontario Convention Center where Bishop Barnes announced a new evangelization effort in the Diocese called Renew. This three-year process of faith sharing and leadership development would be done in a small group setting. The first Annual Bishop’s Dinner was held at the Palm Springs Convention Center.
To support the emerging Filipino, Vietnamese and Korean communities, Bishop Barnes created the Asian-Pacific Islander Ministry. Sr. Theresa Phan, LHC, was named the first director. As part of the Jubilee Year, Bishop Barnes issued a special Pastoral Letter on Debt Forgiveness. The Diocese contributed $4.8 Million toward the forgiveness of several parish and school debts that had accumulated.
Some months later, the Vatican appointed Msgr. Dennis O’Neil as the second Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese. He was ordained on March 27, 2001. A two-day youth symposium was held in 2002 to provide direction to the newly reorganized youth ministry office. Bishop Barnes published a Pastoral Letter on Sexual Abuse that same year outlining new policies and procedures for all priests, employees and ministry leaders in the Diocese.
In 2003, the Office of Catholic Schools held the first Bishop’s Golf Classic event in Palm Desert, to support a scholarship program for students to attend Catholic schools in the diocese. After only two years of serving the Diocese, Bishop O’Neil died suddenly on October 17, 2003.
As the diocese prepared to mark its 25th Anniversary, a celebration was scheduled for November 2, 2003 at Cal State, San Bernardino. The event had to be rescheduled due to a wildfire in the San Bernardino area. Cardinal Roger Mahoney joined Bishop Barnes in celebrating the 25th Anniversary Mass on January 18, 2004. To assist with the governance of the Diocese, Bishop Barnes created a new Episcopal Vicar position. Msgr. Tom Wallace was the first Vicar for Riverside County and Father Robert Miller was the first Vicar for San Bernardino County.
In 2005, a new Blessed Junipero Serra House of Formation was built in Grand Terrace, next to Christ the Redeemer Parish. That same year the Vatican appointed Father Rutilio del Riego, DLP, as the third Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese. The next year, a new Catholic High School opened in Palm Desert; its name was Xavier College Prep. Also in 2006, the first Catholic Cemetery was opened in Colton, named Our Lady Queen of Peace.
In order to better utilize church facilities and available priests, Bishop Barnes established four new parishes through the merger of nine previous parishes in 2006. The Catholic population in the Diocese surpassed one million people, as new housing developments continued to be built in the two counties.
To guide the pastoral life of the Diocese, Bishop Barnes announced five priorities in 2009: preparation of the laity, spiritual life, community partnerships, church as a prophetic voice in society and priests. The Great Recession hit San Bernardino and Riverside counties especially hard, impacting church finances in parishes and schools, resulting in reduced staffs and program cutbacks.
In order to strengthen Catholic marriages, the Office of Catechetical Ministry embarked in 2011 on a new Marriage Education Initiative for the next five years. Catholic Charities celebrated 30 years of service and outreach in the community with an anniversary Mass celebrated by Bishop Barnes. The City of San Bernardino celebrated its 200th Anniversary; having been named after St. Bernardine of Siena by Father Francisco Dumetz on May 20, 1810. At a special gathering, Bishop Barnes dedicated a monument in honor of Fr. Dumetz.
In response to emerging pastoral needs, Bishop Barnes initiated a Justice for Immigrants ministry, opened an office for Restorative Justice to serve the incarcerated and victims of violent crime, created the Office of Child and Youth Protection and began an outreach to young Hispanic adults.
After 45 years of ministry in the Inland Empire, the Sisters of St. Benedict announced the closure of their Holy Spirit Monastery in Grand Terrace. As the kick off event for the “Year for Youth” (2011-2012), as proclaimed by Bishop Barnes, over 500 people from the Diocese attended World Youth Day with Pope Benedict XVI in Spain.
In recognition of the Diocesan commitment to multicultural ministry, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops selected the Diocese of San Bernardino as one of three in the United States to pilot a cultural competency program for ministers. The continued growth in the Diocese reached 1.5 Million Catholics, making the Diocese of San Bernardino the fifth largest in the United States.
As the Diocese celebrates its 35th Anniversary, we remember the many “saints” - priests, religious and lay leaders who have built and sustained the Catholic community in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. We are grateful for the generous blessings the Lord has bestowed on this local Church. God’s plan continues to unfold through our faithful ministry and service.
Peter Bradley is archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.