Lake County Catholic parishes gain new pastor

Fr. Matt Barnum welcomes area as new home

LAKE COUNTY — While the spacious forests and pristine lakes, rivers and creeks of Lake County call to nature enthusiasts, and the quiet towns with deep roots instill a sense of close-knit community, Rev. Fr. Matt Barnum has found himself right at home since being appointed as priest at St. Ann, St. Ignatius and St. Bernard Catholic churches in Lake County on July 1.

The appointment of Fr. Barnum to the parishes in Baldwin, Luther and Irons was announced by the Diocese of Grand Rapids in May, and follows a year and four months since parishioners at St. Ann-St. Ignatius have been without a pastor with the death of Rev. Fr. Ron Schneider. Furthermore, with the retirement of Rev. Fr. Dennis O'Donnel at St. Bernard in Irons, all three Catholic parishes in Lake County now share the same priest for the first time.

After Fr. Schneider's death in March of 2020, Rev. Fr. Tom Page, pastor at St. Jude Catholic Church in Grand Rapids, was assigned as administrator at St. Ann-St. Ignatius, and celebrated Mass in Baldwin and Luther, along with Rev. Fr. Danny Orris, associate pastor at St. Jude, as well as other priests, occasionally, such as Rev. Fr. Tony Pelak and Rev. Fr. Dick Host, for the past year.

Before coming to Lake County, since 2009, Fr. Barnum had his first assignment as pastor at St. Mary, St. Jean the Batpiste and Our Lady of Grace, in Muskegon.

Now 12 years later, at age 41, finding himself ministering in Lake County, Fr. Barnum is excited for all that awaits him and his three dogs, Inga, Molly and Maggie, who he claims are "friendly by day and great alarms by night."

"I am very pleased to be in Lake County. It is kind of like I won the lottery," Fr. Barnum said, explaining how he is very familiar with the county, and came up here often with his family when he was growing up. "I am definitely an outdoorsman. Throw me in the middle of the woods or river and I'll be content."

Fr. Page feels Fr. Barnum is a great fit for Lake County and will bring a lot to the table.

"Twelve years ago, Fr. Matt followed me (as pastor) at St. Mary's and St. Jean the Baptiste in Muskegon," Fr. Page said. "People found at first we were very different. I was tall and he was not. I was middle-aged and he was young. But after the initial shock, people learned to love and appreciate all of his gifts… P.s., he's still short, but he's no longer young."

Fr. Barnum first felt the calling to a life of ministry when the priest at a parish he was attending preached about vocations during the month of November.

"Each passing Sunday I contemplated his messages, and by the end of the month, I just felt God pulling on my heart," he said, knowing then he was supposed to become a priest. "My first priority is to glorify God. My second priority is to share that love and glory with other people."

Fr. Barnum is on the board of directors at Catholic Charities of West Michigan, and while in Muskegon, was able to bring in $100,000 in the course of seven years to the Muskegon baby pantry.

"My priority is unborn babies and babies," he said. "We can't feed and clothe them later if they're not with us."

St. Ann parishioner and Bread of Life Food Pantry member Lynne Mills is excited about Fr. Barnum's passion to help others, which she feels will be perfect for the Lake County and follows the footsteps of priests who were his predecessor's at St. Ann-St. Ignatius.

"We are looking forward to Fr. Matt's ideas and having him in the community," Mills said. "Fr. Ron (Schneider) was very involved in the community. He's not just coming to this parish - he's coming to the whole town. He's partial to the pantry. He's on the Catholic Charities of West Michigan. He's going to bring a lot to the community."

Parish member Rose Dingman also is happy to have Fr. Barnum as priest, mentioning her amusement when he announced he was a blood relative of circus master P.T. Barnum, and how he brings his own circus with him, his three dogs, (who parishioners from his previous church, Joe and Teresa Dault), even donated fencing for at the rectory.

"It is wonderful having Fr. Matt here. He is so open and accessible," Dingman said. She also gave a shout-out to the priests who have filled in since the death of Fr. Schneider.

"We have been so fortunate for Fr. Tom Page and Fr. Danny Orris to be with us this past year. They were not just priests - but friends. They became part of our family," she said.

Fr. Barnum said his first couple weeks at St. Ann, St. Ignatius and St. Bernard has been great.

"I love it. There are such great people here. Wherever I go I like to lay down roots," he explained. "I am not just here as a visitor."