Meet the Barbers

John Adams said that Catholics were scarce as earth-quakes or comets in early America. Nowhere was this truer than in New Hampshire, where Catholics were banned from holding office until 1877. Yet it was here that one of the dramatic conversion stories ever ocurred. It began in 1817 when Virgil Horace Barber (1782-1847), an Episcopal priest, along with his wife and children were received into the Roman Catholic Church. The following year Virgil’s father (also an Episcopal priest) and mother became Catholics on their own. His cousin William Barber Tyler (1806-1849) also converted, was ordained in 1829, and became first Bishop of Hartford (1843-1849). Meanwhile Virgil and his wife took an unusual (but not unprecedented) step: he became a Jesuit priest and she a Visitation Sister. In 1822 he started the first Catholic Church in New Hampshire. All of their children, four daughters and a son, entered religious life (and stayed). Virgil worked among the Penobscot Indians of Maine, and taught at Georgetown. His son Samuel (1814-1864), ordained a Jesuit priest in 1840, was assigned there when he arrived. Altogether some 22 members of the extended Barber clan converted; thirteen of them entered the priesthood and religious life. A pretty amazing story!
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