Philadelphia native and 10-year Wilmington resident Father Barry R. Strong is no stranger to Rome, so he knows what he’ll be missing when he leaves Delaware to live in Italy in a couple of weeks.
“The calmness,” he said.
Father Strong is anticipating the raucous traffic of Rome compared to the relatively tame streets of Wilmington.
“I think of the calmness of the streets here compared to the chaos of the traffic there,” he said.
Father Strong earned a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, but his return this year is for a reason even more significant. He was elected this summer as the 12th superior general at the 20th general chapter of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales held in Annecy, France.
Ordained in 1984, Father Strong taught graduate theology at DeSales School of Theology and the Catholic University of America, and worked in the Oblate formation program in Washington, D.C. He has served in the dioceses of Raleigh, N.C., and Venice, Fla., as pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Wilmington, N.C., and St. Ann Parish in Naples, Fla. He most recently served as director of province administration in Wilmington. He also served on the congregation’s general council as assistant superior general and general mission coordinator.
“His election is a great honor for our province,” Father Lewis S. Fiorelli, provincial for the Wilmington-Philadelphia province, said in a statement posted on the Oblates website.
Three general councilors were also elected. They come from Benin in Western Africa, Europe and India. As new superior general, Father Strong is able to choose a fourth councilor. He said he has selected Father Francis Danella of Philadelphia and also named him assistant superior general.
Father Strong will lead the congregation of 450 priests worldwide. More than 140 of those count Wilmington-Philadelphia as their province of origin. Father Strong was elected to a six-year term and will be eligible for election to one additional term.
Among the challenges he foresees is “interculturality,” which he describes as “dealing with the realities of immigration.”
Like many religious congregations, attracting potential candidates to the priesthood is an important part of the job, especially in the United States. He said there is no guaranteed recipe for drawing more people to vocations.
“If anyone has an answer, they should bottle it and they can make a lot of money,” he said. “It’s going to take a personal encounter, just introducing the idea of being a priest and re-spark vocations again.”
Father Strong’s installation took place during Mass in Annecy in July.