In Memory

William J "Bill" Barry - Class Of 1937

William J Bill Barry

Monsignor William J. Barry, former pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Claremont, has died. He was 87.  Barry, who led the church for 31 years and oversaw its adoption of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, died of natural causes Sunday at his Newport Beach home.

"He had a quality of attention to people as individual persons that made them feel like they were the only people in the world," said the Rev. Tom Welbers, the church's current pastor, who succeeded Barry when he retired in 1994. "For him, all (church) institutions or structures ... have to serve people." When he arrived as pastor in 1963, Barry quickly established himself as an effective leader of the parish, increasing the church's charitable profile within the community and expanding church facilities.

"When he came there, the school only had one classroom for each of first through eighth grades," said Jim Stoneman, who was an organist for the parish from 1966 to 1987.  "He built an entire new eight-classroom wing of the school. So he doubled the size of the school by 1966. That was a significant accomplishment back then."

Among Barry's numerous outreach efforts, Welbers said one of the most lasting was the church's sponsorship of Vietnamese refugee families who formed the nucleus of a community that has held regular Mass at Our Lady of the Assumption since 1979.  "We still have a very strong and thriving Vietnamese community here that dates back to when he invited them," Welbers said.

Parishioners remembered Barry as an outgoing, friendly man who paid great attention to the young members of the church.  Monsignor Gregory Cox, now executive director of the Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, the social service arm of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, was an eighth-grader at Our Lady of the Assumption when Barry arrived.  "He always encouraged me that if the priesthood was something that I was interested in, he was always there to encourage that and give me guidance," Cox said. "He was a source of inspiration for me becoming a priest."

Barry, born May 21, 1919, in Akron, Ohio, was the middle of the family's five sons. The family moved to South Pasadena in 1927, where the boys served as altar boys at a local church.  After his first year at UC Berkeley, Barry became interested in the priesthood. He was ordained in 1944.

One of his first assignments was as pastor of St. Mary's Church in East Los Angeles, at that time a diverse community with a mix of Russian, Mexican, German, Irish and Jewish immigrants.  He was appointed in 1950 to the Catholic Welfare Bureau (now the Catholic Charities of Los Angeles), where he served in several leadership roles. He actively participated in the organization for the rest of his life, Welbers said.

Barry maintained lasting family ties, initially with siblings, and later with numerous nieces, nephews and subsequent generations.  He was also an active outdoorsman, family and friends said, with his favorite activities being surfing, body surfing and especially sailing.

There are many anecdotes about Barry's love for sailing. The most repeated by family members was an instance in the 1960s when the boat he was manning with his brother sank between Catalina Island and the mainland. The brothers were stranded in the ocean for 24 hours before being rescued.  "That was on the cover of the L.A. Times, with the priest and his brother being saved by the Coast Guard," said Bob Barry, the monsignor's nephew.

Barry is survived by one brother, David Barry (SPHS '34), two sisters-in-law, Mary and Lorna Barry, as well as numerous nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.  "He had a way that, no matter how challenged a person was in communicating, he would fully embrace a person, and I don't think there's anybody he didn't touch, didn't embrace," Bob Barry said. "I've never actually seen anybody like that and (that's) probably why he's so loved by parishioners and family."

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, March  21, 2007