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Dr. Lewis Barbato had a profound influence on my life -- and my ministry
One of my heroes just died. I'd like to tell you about him, and about
the impact he had on my life.
His name was Dr. Lewis Barbato. He was a psychiatrist and a deacon
ordained at the age of 70, and active in the deaconate right up until
his death this month at the age of 96.
That's right 96.
Last September, I attended a dinner honoring Dr. Barbato. Several
of Dr. Barbato's fellow deacons spoke. They gave lovely talks about
the experience of serving as deacons alongside this amazingly kind and dedicated
man who, in his mid-nineties, was still assisting at daily Mass.
They were all wonderful talks. I was, nevertheless, struggling with
the temptation to storm the podium and grab the microphone. I wanted
to tell the rest of the story.
Dr. Barbato had a profound influence on my life.
He had been a friend of my family's as far back as I could remember.
In the 1970's, I was struggling with a relatively serious case of childhood
depression. It had gone on for several years, and my parents had consulted
several child psychologists, all to no avail. I remember meeting with
a few of those doctors myself, and hating it. I recall one, in particular.
I asked him why I had to be there, and he told me it was because I didn't
like myself. I said, "So?"
I thought that was normal.
My parents were at the end of their rope when Dr. Barbato caught wind of
the situation. He had already retired from the practice of psychiatry,
but he offered to help free of charge.
I only met with him a few times. But those meetings had a tremendous
impact on me.
I remember he told me that, if we all knew how much God loves us, we would
have no need for psychiatrists. I remember he told me that, when other
people don't like themselves, they often try to pull us down in order to
raise themselves up kind of like a pulley system when one side rises
because the other side falls.
Most of all, I remember a simple little story he told me. It was about
a man who walked past a newsstand every day, and said "hello" to the grumpy
man who ran it. The man never responded. One day someone asked
him why he bothered greeting someone who clearly didn't care.
The man replied, "Because, if I stopped, I'd be letting him and his grumpiness
change who I am and what I believe is the right thing to do."
Dr. Barbato helped me to see that my value doesn't come from what other
people think of me or how they treat me it comes from the image and
likeness of God, which abides deep within me. Nobody can change that
or take it away. I therefore do what is right not because of
what other people will think or how they will react, but because I know
it is right.
He had an amazing way of making those truths real, and of making them stick.
Dr. Barbato also taught my parents how to reinforce what I was learning
and apply it to concrete situations. I remember my mom reminding
me of the pulley system, and how other people's treatment of me was not
about me at all, but rather about themselves and their own lack of confidence.
A year later, I was very excited about a class trip I was taking to Washington
DC. But then some roommate scheduling problems emerged I was
placed in a room with "older kids" I didn't know. Mom was about to
intervene on my behalf when Dr. Barbato told her "Leave it alone.
She can handle it now." And I did. The first night was bad.
(I remember lying in bed listening to a discussion about sneaking out of
the hotel and stealing wine.) So the next morning I took my newly
confident twelve-year-old self to the chaperones, and asked for a different
room. And I got it.
My mother still says that, when I returned, I was a completely different
I kept in touch with Dr. Barbato as I grew up. In recent years, I
would meet him for drinks and dinner at his lovely retirement community.
And I saw him around town at Mass, at meetings, at Church events.
He got older and shorter. He moved slower. But he never stopped
moving. He remained active in organizations. He traveled.
He gave talks.
He was amazing.
I dedicated my book Real Love to Dr. Barbato. I did it for
one simple reason because if it were not for him and the influence
he had on my life, there is no way in the world I would be doing what I
am doing today. The lessons I learned from him, and the confidence
I gained as a result, are at the core of everything I do in my ministry.
He has gone to his reward now to be with his God and his beloved
wife Jenna. I strongly suspect that, at the moment of his death, he
heard his Savior say "Well done, good and faithful servant." He touched
many, many lives directly in his 96 years on this earth.And he touched a
lot more lives indirectly; including every life my ministry has ever reached.
May God bless and richly reward his soul.
(This article was originally published in December
Ignatius Press books by Mary
Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks and writings
about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken to tens
of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at World
Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and television
programs, including several appearances on MTV.
Mary Beth has written two books, We're
on a Mission from God and Real
Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various
publications. She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest
video series, also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex
and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown
Award for Best Youth Curriculum.
Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from
the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of
Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University.
She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the
Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding
Young Women of America for 1997.
Visit Mary Beth and Real Love Incorporated online here.
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