October 14 – Barber Family

October 13, 2022

Daniel Barber

Daniel Barber, soldier of the Revolution, Episcopalian minister and convert, b. at Simsbury, Connecticut, U.S.A., 2 October, 1756; d. at Saint Inigoes, Maryland, 1834. The conversion of the Barber family, despite the prejudices of a Puritan education and environment, was one of the most notable and far-reaching in its results of any recorded in the early annals of the church in New England. Daniel Barber has left a “History of My Own Times” (Washington, 1827), in which he states that his father and mother were Congregational Dissenters of strict Puritanic rule and he continued in that sect until his twenty-seventh year, when he joined the Episcopalians. Previous to this he had served two terms as a soldier in the Continental army. In his thirtieth year he was ordained a minister of the Episcopalian Church at Schenectady, New York. He married Chloe Case, daughter of Judge Owen of Simsbury, Connecticut, and about 1787, with his wife, his three sons, and a daughter, moved to Claremont, New Hampshire. He exercised the duties of the ministry for thirty years without doubt concerning the soundness of his ordination, when one day the chance reading of a Catholic book opened up for him the whole issue of the validity of Anglican orders, by impugning Parker’s consecration. This doubt was further increased by a visit for conference to the famous Bishop Cheverus, then a priest in Boston, and the inability of his Episcopalian associates to offer any satisfactory refutation of the arguments advanced by the Catholic priest. Father Cheverus also gave him a number of Catholic books, which he and the other members of his family read eagerly.

Old St. Mary. First Roman Catholic Church in New Hampshire. Built by Virgil H. Barber, S.J. 1823-1824

In 1807, at the instance of her parents, he baptized Fanny, daughter of General Ethan Allen, who subsequently became a convert and died a nun in the convent of the Hotel-Dieu, Montreal. A visit he made there greatly impressed him, and Miss Allen’s change of faith indirectly had much to do with his own conversion. The books Father Cheverus gave him he not only studied carefully himself, but gave them to his wife and children. His son, Virgil Horace, who was a minister in charge of an Episcopalian academy at Fairfield, near Utica, New York, was specially attracted by these books when with his wife he visited his father, and he took Milner’s “End of Controversy” back to New York. This visit resulted in the conversion of both husband and wife in 1817. The following year Virgil returned to Claremont from New York, taking with him Father Charles Ffrench, a Dominican who was officiating there at St. Peter’s church. The priest remained a week in Daniel Barber’s house preaching and saying Mass, with the result that he had seven converts, including Mrs. Daniel Barber and her children, Mrs. Noah Tyler, who was Daniel Barber’s sister, and her eldest daughter Rosetta. Mrs. Tyler was the mother of William Tyler, first Bishop of Hartford, Connecticut. Her husband and six other children were subsequently converted, and four of the daughters became Sisters of Charity.

The grave of Daniel Barber Jr. at Saint Ignatius Church Cemetery in Saint Inigoes, St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

Mrs. Daniel Barber was a woman of great strength of mind and resolution. She died in her seventy-ninth year, 8 February, 1825. Her husband was not baptized with her, but on the fifteenth of November, 1818 gave up his place as minister of the Episcopalian parish of Claremont. He then went to visit friends in Maryland and Washington, where he took the final step and entered the Church. He spent the rest of his life, after the death of his wife, in Maryland and Pennsylvania, near his son Virgil, and he died in 1834 at the house of the Society of Jesus at Saint Inigoes, Maryland. Two pamphlets, printed at Washington, “Catholic Worships and Piety Explained and Recommended in Sundry Letters to a Very Dear Friend and Others” (1821), and “History of My Own Times”, give interesting details of his life and show him to have been honest in his convictions and earnestly desirous of knowing the truth and disposed to embrace it when found.

Virgil Horace Barber

Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick, SJ

Virgil Horace Barber, son of Daniel, b. at Claremont, New Hampshire, 9 May, 1782; d. at Georgetown, D.C., 25 March, 1847. He himself said that the first step leading to his conversion was the reading through curiosity of a little book “A Novena to St. Francis Xavier” belonging to a pious Irish servant girl who was employed in his house while he was principal of the Episcopalian Academy at Fairfield, New York. This raised doubts concerning his Protestant faith, which his bishop, Dr. Hobart, and other Episcopalian ministers could not solve for him. During a visit to New York City, in 1816, he called on Father Benedict J. Fenwick, S.J., with the result that he resigned his Episcopalian charge at Fairfield, and went to New York, where he and his wife Jerusha (b. New Town, Connecticut, 20 July, 1789) were received into the Church with their five children, Mary (b. 1810); Abigail (b. 1811); Susan (b. 1813); Samuel (b. 1814); and Josephine (b. 1816). At first he opened a school in New York, but this lasted only seven months, for both he and his wife determined to enter religious life, he the Society of Jesus, and she the Visitation Order. Under the direction of their friend, Father Fenwick, in June, 1817, they set out for Georgetown, D. C., where Mr. Barber and his son Samuel went to the college of the Jesuit Fathers, and his wife and the three oldest girls were received into the Visitation convent. The youngest child, Josephine, then ten months old, was taken care of by Father Fenwick’s mother. The superior at Georgetown, Father John Grassi, S.J., shortly after sailed for Rome and took Mr. Barber with him as a novice. Mr. Barber remained there a year and then returned to Georgetown, where he continued his studies until December, 1822, when he was ordained a priest at Boston. After his ordination he was sent to his old home, Claremont, New Hampshire, where he built a church and laboured for two years. He then spent some time on the Indian missions in Maine, and was after recalled to Georgetown College, where he passed the remainder of his days.

The grave of Fr. Virgilius Horace “Virgil” Barber, SJ, in Georgetown University Jesuit Cemetery, Washington, DC.

Nearly three years after their separation, 23 February, 1820, husband and wife met in the chapel of Georgetown convent to make their vows in religion. She first went through the formula of the profession of a Visitation nun, and he the vows of a member of the Society of Jesus. Their five children, the eldest being ten and the youngest three and a half years old, were present. Mrs. Barber had been admitted into the Visitation convent on the twenty-sixth of July, 1817, taking the name of Sister Mary Augustine. Her novitiate was one of severe trials, as well on account of her affection for her husband as on account of her children, who were a heavy burden to the community then in a state of extreme poverty. Her pious perseverance triumphed, and she became one of the most useful members of the order, serving in the convents of Georgetown, Kaskaskia, St. Louis, and Mobile, where she died 1 January, 1860. She had the happiness of seeing all her children embrace a religious life. Mary, the eldest, entered the Ursuline convent, Mt. Benedict, near Charlestown, Massachusetts, as Sister Mary Benedicta, 15 August, 1826, and died in the convent of the order in Quebec, 9 May, 1844. Abigail, Susan, and Josephine also became Ursulines. The first died in Quebec, 8 December, 1879, and Susan in the convent at Three Rivers, Canada, 24 January, 1837. Samuel, the son, graduated at Georgetown College in 1831 and immediately entered the Society of Jesus. After his novitiate he was sent to Rome, where he was ordained. He returned to Georgetown in 1840, and died, aged fifty years, at St. Thomas’s Manor, Maryland, 23 February, 1864.

De Goesbriand, Catholic Memoirs of Vermont and New Hampshire (Burlington, Vermont, 1886); Lathrop, A Story of Courage (Boston, 1894); Shea, The Catholic Church in the United States (New York, 1856); Idem, Memorial History of Georgetown College (Washington, 1891); U. S. Cath. Hist. Soc. Records and Studies (New York, October, 1900).

THOMAS F. MEEHAN (Catholic Encyclopedia)


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