By Steve Neill Of The Catholic Virginian
Looking back on his 32 years of priesthood as he prepares to retire in late June, Father Jay Biber says he is one of the few priests who had almost completed his priestly formation, then left the seminary to work in the business world for 10 years before returning to theology studies and being ordained a priest.
Father Biber will celebrate his final Mass as pastor of St. Mary of the Annunciation Church in Ladysmith, Caroline County on Sunday, June 25.
He explained his reasons for leaving the seminary in 1972.
“It was during the ‘70s, a time of tremendous upheaval and I became uncertain,” Father Biber said June 5.
Using the analogy of priesthood with marriage, he says, “I felt it was better to not get married than to have a divorce later.
“That was my thinking at the time and I didn’t want to be one who quit.”
He grew up in Barrington, R.I., and had no experience of Catholic schools until he entered Our Lady of Providence, the high school seminary of the Diocese of Providence, where he was a boarding student. He had three years of high school and then four years of college at the same school.
He graduated in 1969 with a B.A. degree in philosophy.
“I was then sent to take theology at the American College of the University of Belgium in Louvain from 1969 to 1972.
“I then left the seminary,” Father Biber said. “I had finished the course with an STB and MA.
“I was in the class of 1973 and pulled out before ordination to the diaconate.
“I was in the business world for the next 10 years,” he continued.
He worked and lived in New York, Paris and Boston. He received an MBA degree from New York University.
“I was involved with everything from international banking, international chemical manufacturing and sales to nuclear power plant construction,” he said.
“In 1982 I began to look at life again and tried to decide what did I want to do for my life’s work.”
His thoughts returned to the priesthood.
“Through the help of an old seminary friend, I came to Virginia and was given the opportunity to see if, just maybe, the earlier step toward the priesthood might be rekindled,” Father Biber recalls.
He had a pastoral ministry experience at St. Vincent’s in Newport News, a summer pastoral assignment at Medical College of Virginia and then attended the fall semester at Catholic University.
He was accepted by the Diocese of Richmond and was ordained a priest May 1, 1985.
“Some of the highlights for me as a priest was seeing people grow in faith, take on leadership and grow in confidence,” Father Biber said. “I saw the Body of Christ recognize and develop its gifts.”
Among the parishes in which he served are St. Bridget’s, Richmond; St. Vincent de Paul, Newport News; St. Patrick’s, Lexington; St. John Neumann, Powhatan, and St. John the Apostle, Virginia Beach.
Father Biber has been active as a spiritual director in Cursillo, Engaged Encounter and Rachel’s Vineyard.
He plans to move to Lexington, the town where he was pastor of St. Patrick’s in Lexington from 1989 to 1996. The church is easy walking distance to Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute.
“I love the town, college atmosphere and cultural life of a college town,” he said. “I also love the Valley.
“I’d like to be of some use to college students, but I don’t know if it’s going to play out,” he said.
Father Biber will continue to remain with his longtime priests’ support group which has 10 members and meets for an overnight every six weeks.
Other members of his priests’ support group are Msgr. Walter Barrett, Father Rene Castillo, Father James Curran, Father Joseph Goldsmith, Father Gregory Kandt, Father Paul Maier, Father Thomas Mattingly, Msgr. Tom Miller and Father Sean Prince. Their next meeting will be held at Shalom House Retreat Center in Montpelier.
Father Biber has had many occasions when he responded to emergency situations when people he doesn’t know are in desperate need for help.
He recently helped a family with five children who ran out of money, had little food and needed to stay in a local motel for another week.
The father initially called Commonwealth Catholic Charities in Richmond who then referred him to St. Ann’s in Ashland. Wanda Clarke, church secretary, got in touch with Father Biber because Father Christian Haydinger, St. Ann’s pastor, was away.
He drove to Ashland and purchased various items the family needed like diapers and clothing.
“We got food from the parish food pantry and paid for the extended week’s lodging,” Father Biber said.
“They’re now back on their feet and living in a mobile home.
“You never know what’s on the other end of the phone when it rings.
“We rarely hear the end of the story. You try to give the caring response for the moment.”
Asked about his immediate plans when he leaves his parish June 30, Father Biber had a ready response.
“The first thing I’m going to do when I retire is go to Spain to take the pilgrimage of St. James de Compostella,” he answered.
“I hope to spend three months each year in Europe,” he added. “I’m looking forward to renewing some of the special friendships I’ve made over the years.”
(Father Jay Biber’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He wanted readers to know that they can reach him on his cell phone: 804-926-1202.)