MCDP sister served with ‘joy and hope’

Editor's Note: A Memorial Mass for Sister Mary Lou Barba will be held Jan. 21 at 10 a.m. at Emmaus Parish in Lakeway.

By Peggy Moraczewski

Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence Sister Mary Lou Barba died Dec. 13 at St. Andrew’s Convent in San Antonio after a valiant fight with cancer. Bishop Joe Vásquez celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial Dec. 20 in San Antonio, and she was laid to rest at San Fernando Cemetery #2 in San Antonio.
Bishop Vásquez praised Sister Mary for her service to the Diocese of Austin.
“She was always filled with joy and hope, which clearly came through as she served the people of the diocese,” he said. “Last month, I visited her at St. Andrew’s Convent in San Antonio. Though she was bed-ridden and seriously ill, this did not diminish the joy and enthusiasm that she exuded. She was a good friend and a wonderful example of servant leadership.”
Bishop Daniel Garcia had known Sister Mary Lou since he was ordained a priest in 1988. “Personally and professionally, she will be dearly missed,” he said.
“She had great vision, prayerfulness, wisdom and joy,” he said. “She was a wonderful leader. Personally, I am so appreciative for her love and support of me and my own vocation.” 
Nearly 47 years ago, Sister Mary Louise Barba took her vows as a religious sister of the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence (MCDP). She began serving in the Diocese of Austin in 1973, when she accepted a position in parish ministry at St. Mary Parish in Lockhart. 
In 1982, Sister Mary Lou was named the director of Religious Education for the Diocese of Austin and served in that capacity for 18 years; during that time she also worked as the director of the diocesan Pastoral Center. Most recently, she was the director of the diocesan Office for Religious (2012-2016), while concurrently working at Emmaus Parish in Lakeway as the director of Children’s Faith Formation (2011-2016). 
Although these roles were demanding, Sister Mary Lou energetically fulfilled each one with immense joy and trust in God, said Bishop Emeritus John McCarthy, who served as bishop of the Diocese of Austin from 1986 to 2001 and knew Sister Mary Lou for more than three decades. 
“As I look back ... I know of no single religious, male or female, who brought more talent, energy, commitment and humor into this church of Central Texas. Whatever she did, she did by mixing talent and generosity with a vision of the church that brought to the fore the same joy and hopefulness that marked the life of St. Francis of Assisi,” he said.
The MCDP charisms of evangelization, catechesis and social service provided a compass for Sister Mary Lou and guided her to impact countless lives by living out her beloved vocation. 
“One of her gifts was the ability to foster a working relationship, as well as a friendship with staff,” said Charlene O’Connell, a longtime friend and co-worker in the diocesan Religious Education department. These relationships, along with trust in Divine Providence, helped her accomplish enormous feats, including the organization of many diocesan-wide programs and events. 
As the diocesan director of Religious Education, two of Sister Mary Lou’s principal accomplishments included establishing the Diocesan Deanery Representative Board for parish directors of Religious Education (DREs) and creating the Catechist Certification process. On a broader level she was very involved with the National Catechetical Conference and the Hispanic Catechesis Movement, as well as being instrumental in getting publishers to take notice of the growing need for Spanish textbooks and resources. 
“She had a hard time saying no to any cause she believed in and, likewise, people had a hard time turning down her requests for help,” O’Connell said. 
When the Diocese of Austin celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998 at the Bell County Expo Center, she was one of the primary forces behind the event. Two years later, to welcome the 21st century, St. John Paul II suggested that every diocese celebrate with a special event. Bishop McCarthy turned to Sister Mary Lou to implement his proposed special event: to celebrate the sacrament of confirmation on Pentecost Sunday, in one location, for the entire diocese. Bishops from across the state confirmed hundreds of youth from across the diocese that day at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. 
After that event, Sister Mary Lou moved to San Antonio to serve as Formation Director and then as Superior General of the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence from 2002 to 2010. Her various roles with the MCDP included Council Member and Congregational Treasurer. She also represented the congregation in Rome, Brazil, France and across the U.S. 
Sister Mary Lou reached countless people with her infectious grin and steadfast faith, said Holy Cross Brother Richard Daly, who worked with her during his time as executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference.
“She was a rare combination of high competence and incredible amiability,” he said. “Sister Mary Lou was always willing to share her talents, expertise and spirituality with people across diocesan lines. She was a gift not just to the Diocese of Austin, but also to the church in Texas.”
After her initial diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in 2009, she made a decision to “return to her roots,” which was catechesis. In 2011, she joined the staff of Emmaus Parish in Lakeway. 
“Sister Mary Lou won over hearts right away. She’s inimitable. She brought a flavor and character to the parish that no one will ever replace. We’re fortunate to have had her for as long as we did,” said Father Samuel Hose, pastor of Emmaus Parish.
Throughout her life, every position she filled benefited from her professionalism, leadership, organizational skills and strong work ethic. But, it was her charismatic personality and warm hospitality, partnered with a sincere love of people that made her stand out in a crowd. It enabled her to, “bridge a gap between the Anglo and Hispanic communities in the parish,” Father Hose said. 
She always gave credit to God and trusted in Divine Providence. O’Connell recalled endless times when Sister Mary Lou would pray devoutly for a desired outcome on a project, but whether or not those prayers were answered, her response was always, “It’s God’s providence.” That was her lens for the world, O’Connell said. 
She approached her 2009 diagnosis of cancer with that same faith, and when the cancer returned, Sister Mary Lou continued to accomplish.
Serving as the diocesan director of the Office for Religious was very important to Sister Mary Lou. It underscored her fidelity to her vocation and to the men and women religious who serve the people of Central Texas. 
Dominican Sister Helen Marie Raycraft, a member of Austin’s Dominican Missionary Preaching Team, admired Sister Mary Lou’s stamina as she battled the cancer.
“As the director of religious, she served us wonderfully,” Sister Raycraft said. “She lived her missionary vocation to the fullest even as she struggled with cancer. She was very loved by all of us religious here in the diocese.”
Sister Mary Lou is survived by her mother, siblings and many nieces and nephews. Memorial contributions can be made to the MCDP Retirement Fund, visit for details.