Ordination Class of 2024: Deacon Barry Mongeon

This is the second article in a series profiling the 11 men who will be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on May 25, 2024.

WESTON -- "He's harmless," says Deacon Barry Mongeon when he sees a spider crawling across the floor of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston. "I'll get him."

On Jan. 22, when The Pilot spoke to him in anticipation of his ordination to the priesthood, Deacon Mongeon, 63, gently wrapped the spider up in a tissue. He held it peacefully in his hand throughout the interview.

"I'll take care of him," he said.

Deacon Mongeon said that in his 63 years, he has learned many lessons, both in and out of the seminary, that have prepared him for the priesthood. Working in the kitchen at his family's inn, and serving on several local government subcommittees, taught him how to work with people and resolve problems.

"I was very, very aware of the community and their needs," Deacon Mongeon said. "And so, in managing a town government and trying to put together budgeting, you understand people's needs and you have a listening perspective when it comes to suiting those needs."

And, luckily for the spider, growing up on farms in central Massachusetts taught him to treat all creatures with kindness -- "unless it's going to kill me."

"From a very early age, I respected and loved nature," he said. "I loved animals, I loved plants. I loved all sorts of creatures. So, I think that I respected God's creation, and I felt as though we need to be caretakers of that creation."

He was born to a Canadian father and Polish mother in Warren, Massachusetts, and raised in a Catholic household that loved music. When he wasn't gardening and taking care of animals on the farm (he still gardens at the seminary), he played piano, accordion, and violin, but his greatest passion was singing. He performed in his school musicals and sang in choirs, including his church choir, where he discovered his love of sacred music.

"I think singing all that sacred music centered me as a Christian," he said. "I would pay attention to the stories that we were singing, especially in (Handel's) 'Messiah.' As a child, you're not necessarily understanding everything that you're singing. But us kids were inquisitive."

He learned the meaning of the words he sang from his grandmother, his great aunt, his pastors, and the women religious who taught him at Catholic school. The first time that he felt called to be a priest was when he was seven years old, but he ignored this calling to follow his passion for singing. He received a master's degree in voice performance from Umass Amherst in 1990. After that, he traveled the world as a marketing manager and product developer for a company that manufactured ribbons and trim. At the same time, he sang sacred music by composers such as Handel and Bach, performing in orchestras and choirs throughout New England.

"It always was a part of who I was," he said. "What it did was it encouraged me in my vocation."

He felt another call when he was in his early 30s, but it was on an autumn night in 2019 that he received a call so strong that he could no longer ignore it.

"I had a physical, visceral calling from God," he said. "I don't know what caused it."

That night he was in church, reading the Book of Hebrews. Only one light was on in the sanctuary, shining above the altar.

"There were a few things that I was really meditating on," he said, "and that's when it came. And I said 'Well, I can't ignore that one.'" It was very clear to me what he wanted me to do."

At the time, he was giving piano and voice lessons in West Brookfield. In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he joined Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary. He thinks that the pandemic, which forced him to spend time in solitude and contemplation, improved his time at the seminary.

"It gives you certainly enough time to meditate and be alone with yourself," he said. "There were those who took advantage of COVID and used the time wisely, and I think many of us here did. We did a lot of studying, a lot of reflection, a lot of prayer. And that really helped."

He said that his favorite experience as a seminarian has been his pastoral assignments. Since his ordination to the transitional diaconate in 2023, he has been stationed at Sacred Heart Parish in Roslindale.

"I've had wonderful pastors who have led me and taught me and shown me the way to be a good pastor," he said. "I think that's extremely critical to any seminarian. To listen, to be there for people, to make them understand. I'm not God, I'm his instrument. And I'm here to serve you."

The greatest challenge has been spending so much time away from friends and family. He can stay in touch with them thanks to technology, but to him, that doesn't compare to seeing them face-to-face. Instead, he plans to focus on his parishioners.

"You focus on what is the work at hand," he said. "Who needs you? What do they need you for? How can you best help that person? You switch your vision, and your focus goes to your pastoral assignments."

He believes that his time in the seminary has changed him, especially by giving him more time to focus on prayer.

"I don't hesitate to talk to the Lord," he said. "I don't hesitate to ask Jesus questions. I don't hesitate to say to the Holy Spirit, 'This person needs you right now. Please come.' I think that comes again with maturity. That comes with years of making mistakes."

As a priest, he wants to "focus on that one thing or two things that really bring the congregation forward." He sees his responsibility as making the parishioners feel like they are part of something greater, rather than "just going through the motions of going to Mass, and that's it."

"I think that a lot of folks today are not feeling that they're part," he said. "And I think it's our job to do that and that is a very, very important part."

He believes that priests should be as active in the community as possible, and he is looking forward to doing so once he is ordained.

"I think they need to go to a basketball game and support the kids in your town," he said. "Go to a track meet and be supportive. Go to a town meeting. Talk with your politicians. Be in the community. Don't just stay in the rectory."

Music will always be a part of his life, but he said that its presence in liturgy is simply to reinforce and enhance the Eucharist.

"We can have as moving an experience without music in the liturgy as with it," he said. "However, the reason I am so geared toward music and the reason I think it's important is because I feel music binds people together. When people sing together, no matter how good they sing, they're making sound all at one time, just like saying a prayer."