By Callie Ewing, BA ’03 MH ’22
“As a priest, it’s been a blessing that my first assignment was to serve a college campus,” said UD Chaplain Father Thomas More Barba, BA ’09 ’10. “Young people need to see that their priests are approachable and can connect with them. Being present on campus as a Dominican, walking around campus and being approachable to students, faculty, or anyone who is here, has been a happy, providential thing.”
Father Thomas More arrived at UD nearly four years ago, seven years after receiving his second UD bachelor’s degree, for his first assignment as an ordained Dominican friar. He appreciated being able to return to his alma mater to serve, especially because it was at UD that he first met the Dominicans and discerned his vocation as a member of their order.
“I knew coming into UD as an undergraduate that I wanted to be a priest,” he said. “And I knew I would never make enough money in my life as a priest to endow a chair or build a building, as nice as that would be for UD. But it’s been a privilege as a priest to give back as an alum, that I’ve been able to serve this university by being the chaplain, being the rector, celebrating the sacraments, giving spiritual direction, and helping to lead and to form the spiritual ethos of this university. That’s been a great blessing and a gift, and it’s one I’ve never taken for granted or taken lightly.”
Father Thomas More feels that his relative youth has helped him to connect to students in a unique way: “Like them, I grew up in a world where there weren’t nuns and religious everywhere. We grew up in a world where our peers didn’t believe in God and were questioning things that our parents’ and grandparents’ generations didn’t. To be a priest in that way, being a visible testimony to the love of God in an environment that is not the home the students grew up in, has been a very special thing to be able to do.”
During his time as chaplain, there are two things in particular that Father Thomas More has felt humbled to be able to be a part of, one of which was hiring the church’s current director of music, Eric Lewis, BA ’07.
“As an alum, he understands the nature of this community and university; he gets the students,” said Father Thomas More. “He’s sympathetic with including more Latin, for example, alongside hymns familiar in an average American Catholic parish. After the Triduum liturgies, a number of students and non-students approached Eric, me, and other priests and said, ‘The music was just so beautiful; the liturgy was so peaceful and uplifting,’ and I know a large part of that is because of Eric’s hard work with the choir.”
The other change that Father Thomas More was glad to be able to enact during his time as rector was moving the tabernacle into the sanctuary. Because of COVID-19 and still not knowing how long spacing will be necessary, he couldn’t leave the tabernacle in the chapel that was designed for it, and he was able to make this change in such a way that allowed for consensus and collaboration with the architect who designed the Church of the Incarnation. This same architect, Jane Landry, designed the stand on which the tabernacle now rests in the sanctuary, and James Cinquemani, the same metalsmith who made the iron bars for the windows in the narthex, created the stand in his workshop.
“I was grateful I could do that because it’s something many students have wanted for many years,” said Father Thomas More. “There is a harmony having the tabernacle in the sanctuary.”
Looking back on his own time at UD as an undergraduate, Father Thomas More considers that he didn’t only learn abstract truths.
“I also learned about the value of friendship — with my peers, but also in a larger sense, with professors, with students who were older and younger than me, and with people whose works we read,” he said. “UD gave me an education, but also formed my character, strengthened my virtue and my holiness.”
His younger self would probably be shocked to learn of Father Thomas More’s next adventure: taking on the role of chaplain at Tulane University in New Orleans this summer.
“I’m not someone who loves to venture out into the unknown; I don’t like the unfamiliar,” he admitted. “Yet, UD confirmed something that I had seen as I was growing up: I thrive when I accept new challenges and go to unfamiliar places, and when I’m in difficult circumstances. I feel like throughout my life God been rooting me, giving me foundations in my family, my hometown of El Paso, my Catholic faith, my ability to discern and to pray, my education here at UD — but He’s also constantly pushed me outside of my comfort zone. Many of the roots I depend upon have come because I’ve given into Him stretching me. I’m looking forward to learning in a very different environment, in a very different ministry, because in that same way, I will be a better priest, and a better Dominican.”
One challenge he anticipates facing at Tulane is that it is a very different type of university.
“In one way, UD was an ‘easy’ assignment — in other ways, it was very challenging!” he laughed. “But I already knew the culture at UD — I knew about Groundhog, about the Cowans and the Core, Rome and Dr. Hatlie, and all these other traditions — I could throw those out in my homilies very easily! Tulane is unknown to me, so there’s a nervousness, but there’s also something I will benefit from. I’m looking forward to accepting difficult challenges.
“We need to connect with those who’ve never heard of UD or who have disagreed with the idea of a Western civilization, especially in this day and age, and who see it not as a benefit; in dialogue, we need to acknowledge when we feel defensive and not give in by responding in anger. I’m hoping to be a part of that, to make this university more well-known, but even when I don’t mention UD by name, when I’ll ask, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about questions of meaning, of an examined life, and believed there are real answers?’, I believe I’m sharing what my UD education has instilled in me.”
He emphasized that we need to be willing — as UDers and as Catholics — to be misunderstood and rejected, to let people hear our ideas and say they want nothing to do with our conception of things, whether it pertains to democracy or governance, theology or philosophy.
“The only way we strengthen our university is to invite people who’ve never heard about it to know about it, because we never know how many people will say, ‘You know what? I want to know more about this university.’ It’s worth sowing the seed — not all seed will fall on rich soil, but it’s got to be worth planting.”
Along these same lines, he strongly encourages his fellow UDers to join him in venturing outside of their comfort zones.
“I’m definitely part of the JPII generation, so one thing I want to say is, ‘Be not afraid … be not afraid to put out into the deep,’” he said. “There are always so many reasons to be fearful, but don’t give into that fear. One of the things I have tried to do as chaplain is to help people see that we need each other, especially people we disagree with. We need courage not only to speak the truth, but also to listen and have the self-possession to tell ourselves, ‘Just because someone is challenging my deeply held beliefs, I don’t need to lash out. I don’t need to be defensive. Am I willing to test what I believe?’
“We need to worship as Catholics, together, in the pews, to minister to the poor together. Don’t be afraid to get to know people, especially Catholics you disagree with. The Church is and always will be greater than any labels. There will always be aspects that challenge cultural or political ideologies, and that’s as it should be, because our allegiance is to Christ first. But we need to resist the temptation to limit the possibility of friendship only to those we agree with. To close ourselves off from someone because we disagree deprives us of great friendships.
“So be not afraid to put out into the deep, whatever that deep might look like,” he concluded.
As he prepares to leave UD and take on his next chapter at Tulane, Father Thomas More has a few requests and pieces of advice for his alma mater.
First, he wants the community to know that his successor, Father Joseph Paul Albin, has his complete support and full confidence.
“He’s young, he’s excited to be a priest, and is an excellent baker and cook,” he chuckled. “He needs everyone’s support, so please give him the benefit of the doubt, let him make mistakes, and support and encourage him. He needs the freedom to be a good chaplain and rector. Being a priest is beautiful, but also very challenging. He’s still learning how to be a priest, as he was ordained in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Further, Father Thomas More hopes that more UDers will discern vocations with the Dominican order.
“I’m obviously biased,” he laughed, “but we truly need good UDers in the Dominican order here in the South. There is a great compatibility between our intellectual formation as UDers and the Dominican order, but UDers aren’t sticks in the mud — UD is fun, we’re sort of the rebellious kid among Catholic universities, and that lines up quite well with us Dominican friars in the South, striving to be studious and faithful, but we also enjoy a good meal, a good time. A lot of UD men may be being called to the Dominicans, and if I can do it, I know others can too.”
Father Thomas More also wants the community to know that he is extremely confident in the future of the university and of the Church. He knows that UD’s 10th president, Jonathan J. Sanford, will be a great president: “So please, UDers, support the university,” he urged. “I trust his judgement. He will do his very best — he will fight for UD and give his all. Please donate to the university. I also think it’s important that people know Dr. Sanford plans to include Campus Ministry as part of the university budget.”
"Father Thomas More has been a tremendous blessing to the University of Dallas. In his dual roles as chaplain of the university and rector of the Church of the Incarnation he has been our spiritual father and a much beloved brother,” said President Jonathan J. Sanford, Ph.D. “His care and love for each member of the community; his excellent homilies full of wisdom, wit and love for all things UD; his devotion to our Lord, especially in the Blessed Sacrament; and his incorrigibly cheerful and encouraging presence among us will be sorely missed. Just as Father Thomas More found ways to nurture our souls even while we could not be physically present together during the early days of COVID, I know he will continue to find ways to nourish us spiritually even as he gives himself generously to those he will be serving in his new assignment."
When Father Thomas More came to visit UD prior to taking on the role of chaplain, former President Thomas W. Keefe told him, “These students deserve your best — they deserve nothing less and want nothing but the top-notch work you have to offer, and that’s what I expect of you.”
“That’s really stayed in my mind, because he was right,” said Father Thomas More. “This university has rightfully asked me to be as best as I can, the best priest that I can be, and I’ve tried to do that.
“This is a goodbye in one way for sure, which is sad, but it’s not a final goodbye,” he emphasized. He hopes to come to Sanford’s inauguration in the fall and see his fellow alumni at events and reunions both in Irving and in other cities.
“I will always have a fierce love and devotion for this school,” he said.