THE BISHOP’S DINNER The Bishop’s Dinner was started in 2000 to raise money for a new House of Formation for diocesan seminarians. Today, the charity dinner benefits the Diocesan Seminarian Fund and serves as a platform for the Bishop to recognize faithful servants of the local Church who embody his motto of “Amar Es Entregarse” (Love is the total giving of onself). (Pictured) Bishop Barnes presents the Amar Es Entregarse medallion to Sister Maria Jennifer Nguyen, L.H.C. at the 2019 Bishop’s Dinner.
It was initially billed as “An Evening with His Excellency Gerald Barnes, Bishop of the Diocese of San Bernardino,” and it attracted notable Catholic entertainment figures Jane Wyman, Dolores Hope and Monty Hall. The initial goal was to raise money for the construction of a new House of Formation for diocesan seminarians.
Before long it was simply “The Bishop’s Dinner,” and it would also serve as a platform for Bishop Barnes to recognize faithful servants of the local Church who embodied his Episcopal Motto, “Amar Es Entregarse” (“Love is the total giving of oneself”).
The charity dinner began in 2000 and, except for one year when it traveled to the Riverside Convention Center, it has always been held in the Coachella Valley. In the early years, it moved from the Palm Springs Convention Center to larger locations that could accommodate the demand for more than 1,000 seating capacity.
Mary Farrell, who was a key supporter and planner of the Bishop’s Dinner (along with the late Virginia Zamboni), recalls that Bishop Barnes was initially reluctant to add another charity event to the many that were already taking place in the local Church, particularly in the Coachella Valley.
“We persisted and we finally got him to say ‘yes,’” Farrell said.
She and Zamboni presented the idea of the dinner as a platform to focus attention on Bishop Barnes’ leadership and priorities for the Diocese – particularly the needs of the seminarian program.
At the inaugural Bishop’s Dinner on March 18, 2000, Bishop Barnes invited his guests to dream of a new house of formation for diocesan seminarians, who had outgrown the aging Serra House facilities in Riverside. A year later at the Second Annual Bishop’s Dinner it was announced that land in the city of Grand Terrace had been purchased as the future site of Serra House of Formation. In 2005, the new Serra House of Formation was dedicated on Oriole Avenue, a $5.6 million project that had received funds raised at the first five Bishop’s Dinner events.
The dinner has continued to benefit the Diocesan Seminarian Fund and it has served as an occasion for attendees to meet diocesan seminarians and learn about their experiences in formation and the resources that are needed to educate and house them during their journey.
“People were not aware of how the seminarians were supported, they just figured the money was there,” Farrell says.
In 2002, Bishop Barnes began honoring members of the local Church with a Bishop’s Award at the dinner. +Sister Georgianna Cahill, then Director of Catholic Charities San Bernardino-Riverside, had suggested to him that he name the award after his Episcopal Motto. Before long, the bestowing of the Amar Es Entregarse Award was a central and joyous element of the dinner as Bishop Barnes introduced his honorees, listened to their acceptance remarks, and then draped a beautiful gold medallion around their neck. Since 2002, 95 individuals, couples and organizations have received the Amar Es Entregarse Award.
Bill Lemann, longtime benefactor of the Diocese and its legal counsel, said the award holds a special place for him.
“To even be considered a nominee of the prestigious Amar es Entregarse Award – much less be a recipient – is a pinnacle point of my participation in the life of the Church,” said Lemann, who received the Amar Es Entregarse Award in 2002. “I will remain forever grateful for the leadership, loyalty and love shown us all by Bishop Barnes.”
Bishop Barnes was faithfully joined at the dinner by the Auxiliary Bishops of the Diocese, beginning with Bishop Dennis O’Neill at the third Bishop’s Dinner and continuing with Bishop Rutilio del Riego every year since his September 2005 Ordination.
In a moving, full-circle moment, Bishop Barnes received his own Amar Es Entregarse medal at the 20th Bishop’s Dinner, the first held following his December 2020 retirement. The evening served as a tribute to his 25 years of Episcopal leadership of the Diocese.
“Amar es Entregarse is about giving, not receiving,” Bishop Barnes said in accepting the award. “For me to be honored with this award is not something I ever expected or hoped for. It was always my great joy to bestow it on someone through these years of the Bishop’s Dinner in recognition of their generous and unselfish service to the people of God.”