Q&A with Father Jim Baron
Diocese’s Director of Mission and Strategic Planning set to begin new job in Rome July 1
CCH: Describe your role as Coordinator of Intellectual Formation.
FJB: It is a new position in line with the revised program for priestly formation (issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in April 2022). It’s a faculty position, but it doesn’t imply necessarily teaching so much as making sure that the classes that the seminarians are taking and their intellectual formation is integrated within the rest of their formation, that it’s meeting the benchmarks that the bishops want. Part of it may encompass the role of an academic dean. But a lot of it is going to be somewhat new and trying to really provide them with a robust theological formation in line with their spiritual, pastoral and human formation.
How did this appointment come about?
That’s a common question I’ve gotten — did you apply for this? Did you seek this out? No, it came out of nowhere. In February, Bishop Golka came into my office with a letter and said, “I assume you’ve seen this?” And I hadn’t. We prayed over it, and we both just felt like this was from the Lord. Therefore I feel a strong sense of peace. But with that has been a real sort of eagerness and a desire to serve the Church a little further upstream, with the formation of future priests.
You studied at the Pontifical North American College as a seminarian. How did being in that environment enhance your priestly formation?
I was so incredibly blessed and grateful for the opportunity to be there. Learning theology in another language opens up new doors and new resources. I read authors that I may not have been exposed to just by learning that language. The Italians, they publish everybody, and so if you can read Italian, then you can really read a lot of other resources and authors that you might never have heard about.
Also, I enjoyed just being with students from all over the world. It’s the heart of the church, it’s the crossroads really, of the church — all roads still lead to Rome. So having students from Africa and China and all throughout Europe, the Americas, Australia, you kind of get a sense of the the global concerns of the Church, which really help put your average parish issues in perspective.
It seems like Pope Francis is of devoting a lot of time and effort to seminary formation, particularly with the new requirement that men complete a propaedeutic year prior to beginning seminary studies.
It’s trying to provide a real opportunity to lay a good foundation, give time for them to establish good habits of prayer, of community life and address some more specific areas that need to be addressed — psychologically, emotionally, spiritually and humanly speaking. So I think it’s a good thing.
Sometimes we, in our efficiency-minded American mentality, want things to happen quickly. But really, I think it’s also something that the Holy Father and so many bishops, priests, and lay people recognize — that the contemporary crisis of the Church is a crisis of leadership, and the absolute need to have well-formed priests who are able to serve.
We’ve also seen how disastrous it can be when priests have not been well-formed or have lived double lives and done tremendous damage to the Church. So it’s worth taking time and trying to really build a good foundation.
What are some of the things that you enjoy about living in Rome? And then what are the downsides, if there are any?
I love seeing, as I said, the international character, the catholicity of the Church. As Catholics, we are blessed to have a visible sign of unity in the life of the church: the Pope. St. Peter’s Basilica is just a stone’s throw away.
A downside is that Rome’s just a little less convenient than America. Here you can get a whole list of chores done in an afternoon. Over there, it’s more like one per afternoon. And I enjoy the food, which is going to be terrible for my waistline.