Meet the new 'Fr. Joseph': Fr. Mark Baron, MIC

There is no greater activity on earth than the work of God in a soul. By God’s design, however, He calls many different kinds of people to fulfill various kinds of spiritual and material roles so that this work of grace can take place. An important thing to note is that God calls and invites us to be generous. He never forces. 

By Dr. Joe McAleer

Every few years, there is a sea change at the Marian Helpers Center on the campus of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. A new “Fr. Joseph, MIC,” is appointed, the titular head of the Association of Marian Helpers. This January, Fr. Mark Baron, MIC, took the reins from the Very Rev. Chris Alar, MIC, to become the 21st Fr. Joseph.

When Fr. Walter Pelczynski, MIC (1916-2000) established the Association 80 years ago in 1944, he got into the habit of thanking donors under the name of the provincial superior at the time, Fr. Jozef Luniewski, MIC. Before long, “Fr. Joseph, MIC,” became the assumed name of the director. Today, Fr. Joseph, MIC oversees a spiritual benefit society with nearly 2 million members that continues to prayerfully and financially support the priests and brothers of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.

Father Mark, 54, was born in Louisville, Kentucky.  He attended Purdue University, and was ordained for the Marians in 2004. He has held a variety of positions over two decades, including novice master, superior of the Marian House of Formation in Washington, D.C., and, for the past six years, administrator of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Darien, Illinois.

Recently, Marian Helper magazine sat down with Fr. Mark to discuss his new appointment.

Congratulations on becoming Fr. Joseph, MIC. In your nearly 20 years as a Marian priest, did you ever expect this appointment?
Honestly, I never once thought about or aspired to be in charge of the Marian Helpers Center. It’s a big responsibility, and one that I just never saw myself fulfilling and thus never lobbied for. So the actual appointment definitely came out of the blue. But, growing up, I never thought about or aspired to become a priest, either. It wasn’t until the priest chaplain at the high school I attended mentioned to me about becoming a priest that I actually began to consider and become attracted to the idea. So I guess there is a little parallel. 

How did your parishioners react when you told them the news?
Initially, they were shocked that I was leaving. Some came up to me afterwards and said, “Congratulations on your promotion!” As a religious, it was funny for me to hear it put like that. Being in charge of the Marian Helpers Center is a big responsibility, for sure. However, I view my appointment as Fr. Joseph as just another way that God is calling me to serve Him. 

What are your plans as the new Fr. Joseph?
In many ways, my overall goal is just to try and continue the good work that Fr. Chris has been doing over the past 10 years. To be able to do this, my immediate plan is simply to learn. I need to deepen my familiarity with how the Marian Helpers Center operates and supports the Association. So I am going to be leaning quite a bit on Fr. Chris and the good employees of the MHC to help me understand the inner workings of the Association and how it is managed. We will be having a strategic planning meeting coming up in March, so I am sure that I will get a greater sense of where we need to focus. 

Donations are vital to the Marian mission and yet it can be difficult to ask people for money. What is your perspective on fundraising?
We have a very generous parish at Our Lady of Peace, so I didn’t have to ask for funds too often. The only time I really did was for the Bishop’s annual appeal. The inspiration I received in preparing for that homily was that the idea of fundraising isn’t so much about asking people for money as it is about giving people an opportunity to be generous in fulfilling a role for the sake of building the Kingdom of Heaven in their hearts. 

There is no greater activity on earth than the work of God in a soul. By God’s design, however, He calls many different kinds of people to fulfill various kinds of spiritual and material roles so that this work of grace can take place. An important thing to note is that God calls and invites us to be generous. He never forces. 

If you study the Bible, you will see how God always has called and invited people to use their talents and resources to help support the work He wants to accomplish. We see this with Jesus, who also relied on the goodness of various supporters to supply for His mission/ministry while on earth (see Lk 8:1-3). The Gospel of John tells us that Judas was put in charge of the money box, which shows that Jesus and His disciples also took in donations for the sake of the ministry. 

The bottom line is that the Church needs material resources to help her fulfill her mission of evangelizing and forming disciples. It is a great privilege to be able to participate in supporting this ministry.

What is the value of being a Marian Helper?
I can answer this in two ways. First, the Association is a way that our Lord inspires and calls people to participate in His work of saving souls through our Marian charism and mission. I would like all of our Marian Helpers who give support to our mission, in any manner, to consider the great work God accomplishes in people’s hearts through our tiny Congregation, and then realize this doesn’t happen without you. I hope this brings you immense consolation and joy. 

Secondly, I want our Marian Helpers to recognize that in your acts of generosity toward the Marian Fathers, God is blessing and changing your own heart, too. This is not only through the spiritual benefits that come to you by being a part of the Association. Your heart is also being transformed through the very works of mercy that God allows and calls you to perform for the sake of souls through your support of our mission. When you do good, you become good, and that reality brings us to the very heart of happiness. Happiness is of immense value because it is what we all desire.

The National Eucharistic Revival is under way across the country. How did you encourage devotion to the Real Presence during your time at Our Lady of Peace?
I love this question. Many of us priests and lay evangelists recognize it is hard for people to really be set on fire for God without first personally encountering Him in some way. I know this was the case for me, and the encounter I had took place via a special moment I had before the Eucharist when I was in my mid-20s. 

For this reason, I had a passion while I served in the parish to create opportunities for people to experience Jesus through His Eucharistic Presence. I primarily did this by organizing a prayer event for the parish called “Eucharistic Encounter.” This was held about six times a year, and involved utilizing song and short reflections to dispose hearts to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist. 

I also made it a point to introduce children in our school and religious education to Eucharistic Adoration. It was always a special moment for me to bring the kids before Jesus and to hear them witness to how they were affected by His Presence.

Who was a big influence on your priesthood?
Outside the Marians, I would say Catholic personalities such as Pope St. John Paul II;  Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR; Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR; and Dr. Scott Hahn. I would also include my spiritual director and the teachers at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., who introduced me to the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas and challenged me to become a more critical thinker. 

Within the Marians, I would single out the late Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, insofar as he was such a pioneer in the promotion of the Divine Mercy message and devotion that would have a profound impact on the way I saw Jesus, myself, and the Church. 
Do you have any hobbies?
Growing up in Kentucky, I had a great passion for both playing and watching sports, especially college basketball and football. I still like to follow most sports, but the only sport that I really play right now is golf, which I enjoy quite a bit.
Are you related to Bishop Robert Barron?
Ha! I get that question all the time. No, I am not. He has an extra “r” in his last name. Besides, I don’t think I am smart enough to be related to him!  

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