Life Stories Monsignor Barry a 'Character,' but Committed to His Flock

By Virginia Culver
The Denver Post
April 14, 2003

Fishing was sublime, but eating what he caught was another matter for Monsignor Thomas Barry, who couldn't stand the smell of fish.

The priest, who died April 1 at age 97, fished with the same enthusiasm and dedication he had for the ministry. That ministry often included gifts of fish he'd caught.

He not only wouldn't eat fish, but he never allowed anyone to cook fish in his house or on his outdoor grill.

It was one of the quirks of the 'feisty Irishman,' as many people called Barry, the oldest priest in the Denver Catholic Archdiocese.

'He had his own rules,' said longtime friend and fellow priest the Rev. Philip Meredith, pastor of All Souls Catholic Church in Englewood, where Barry lived in retirement.

Barry could catch fish anywhere, friends said. 'But there was no morality in how he counted the catch,' Meredith said, because Barry would often claim as his total the sum caught by all the guests on his boat.

On retirement, Barry told then-

Archbishop James Casey he would be glad to help out in the pulpit, but not from Memorial Day to Labor Day. During that time, he was always at his cabin in Granby, fishing from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Barry also absolutely wouldn't eat pork, but he didn't consider ham, sausage or bacon to be pork, so he ate them, said Meredith. 'He was a character in the best sense of the word,' Meredith said.

Barry was committed to the people he served, said Julie Muller,a cousin in Loveland. At Annunciation Church in Denver he encouraged the youth to be proud of their neighborhood and assigned them to rake or weed or move furniture for people near the church, she said.

Barry believed priests, not parishioners, controlled parishes, Meredith said. 'But because of his winning ways and his attitude, people were happy to let him run things,' said Judy Cozzens, a longtime friend.

He was devoted to the people, to his daily prayers at exact times and to being a visible presence. Fishing trips were about the only time anyone ever saw him without his clerical collar.

And, after he was named monsignor, only friends and other priests were allowed to call him Tom or Father: He wanted to be called monsignor, Meredith said.

'He always had a story and gave very good homilies which had a message with humor,' Muller said.

After the priesthood and fishing, Barry loved the Notre Dame football team. The priest's cousin Dick Barry of Chicago said he recalled being with him when the phone rang during a Notre Dame game.

'He picked up the phone, said, 'Why the hell are you calling me during a Notre Dame game? Call me when it's over," the priest said, hanging up the phone.

Thomas Patrick Barry was born Nov. 23, 1905, in County Clare, Ireland. He came to the United States when he was 17, leaving his widowed mother and five siblings. He never returned to Ireland.

He told people he saw no reason to go back and was happy here, but Cozzens said he actually was afraid to fly and didn't want to take a long voyage back to Ireland.

He was preceded in death by his parents and five siblings.

Barry worked at an uncle's grocery store in Montrose and then entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver. He was ordained in 1939 and served as assistant pastor at St. Patrick's Church in northwest Denver, as pastor of Annunciation Church in north Denver, and of St. Joseph Church in Golden. He started a parish in Granby, called Our Lady of the Snows, and served many parishes intermittently after retirement, including those in Loveland, Steamboat Springs, Julesburg and Kremmling.

More than 1,500 people attended services for him last week.


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