Ernest George Barbeau

May 21, 1936 ~ January 22, 2024 (age 87) 87 Years Old

Ernest Barbeau Obituary

Ernest George Barbeau, known to all as Ernie, was born in Sacramento to Louis Barbeau and Bertha De Grath on May 21, 1936. He was the youngest of ten children.

Ernie attended William Land Elementary School until fourth grade, then transferred to Holy Angels Catholic Elementary School. Here he became an altar boy, which he said was “probably the best thing to ever happen to me; that’s where I developed a love for the Mass and Eucharist that has never left me.”

In eighth grade, he was taken on a tour of St Joseph’s seminary, which he liked because he spied a carton of Mounds bars. But his mother encouraged him to go to Christian Brothers High School first. There he attended his first Catholic retreat, which made a deep impression on him: “It was 50 hours of silence, which I liked.” He began to feel more drawn to the priesthood.

After high school he enrolled in Sacramento Junior College, “in an age where it was fashionable to be an atheist,” he wrote. He found himself challenging his teachers and peers on matters of faith. During his college years he took his first full time job with the State Personnel Board. Meanwhile, he entertained ideas of being a writer, a professional gambler, and a treasure hunter.

He took a stab at the latter, setting out for Venezuela with two friends to become diamond prospectors. He ended up in Mexico City, where he fell ill for six weeks. The prospecting plan fell through, although he amassed many tales of hitchhiking, rambling, and eating his way through Mexico on the way home.

Soon after the Mexico adventure, in 1956, he volunteered to join the army. “My faith had me believing that all authority came from God, and so I was happy to obey any order given, no matter how stupid,” he wrote. A lifelong pacifist, he spent two years serving as an official photographer at the Fort Ord army base.

He was briefly engaged to be married, but his fiancee pointed out to him in a letter, “As far as I can see, you’re in love with the whole world. That’s more love than I can handle. Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?” He wrote, “I had thought of it often but was always afraid.” He took the question to his elementary school mentor Father Renwald, who encouraged him to follow his call. Within the space of a weekend he’d enrolled in seminary and applied for early release from the Army, which was denied. In his remaining time in the Army, he read all the books available in the Catholic chapel.

In the four-month interval between Army discharge and starting seminary, he worked at Mission San Antonio with Franciscan monks at the bookbindery.

He then began four years of studies at Mount Angel seminary, attached to a Benedictine monastery in Oregon, where “the Benedictines taught the religion of love with love.” He served as the editor of the college newspaper there. He also discovered a slight challenge with the prospect of priesthood: he kept falling in love.

As he questioned his vocation, he accepted an invitation from a friend to join a mission to Michoacan, Mexico, with a small group of men and women. He fell in love again, and upon his return he sought advice from two different priest friends, who both recommended a leave of absence from seminary. “God in His graciousness had other plans for me,” he wrote, “and as it turns out, they did not include [a serious relationship].”

Freed from both seminary and the love interest, Ernie was at loose ends. Father Renwald hired him to teach elementary school at Holy Angels, where he had been a student. “I had 53 students and no experience,” he wrote. “I’m told I did a good job. But it took me about 80 hours a week. It taught me a lot about responsibility.” He began writing short stories and articles at this time and had some of his pieces published.

After teaching and a number of different jobs, he finally landed on a career as a social worker, where he met Kay. “She was on vacation when I started,” he recalled. “So I'm at my desk the first morning, she's back, and somebody appeared beside me. I swear she didn’t walk or float or whatever. She just was there. And I hear this voice saying, ‘I think this is yours.’ I had something on her desk, I guess. I liked her voice. I liked her before I ever saw her.” By the end of their first dinner date, they both knew they were destined to marry.

They were married on May 1, 1965, and two years later, Anton was born. “[On the way to the hospital], she wanted to stop at Sambo's which was two blocks from Kaiser and have a cup of coffee at 2 o'clock in the morning. And so we did. And then she went to the bathroom and her water broke and so we left our sweet roll and coffee on the counter and went down to Kaiser.”

They remained happily married for eight years. Sadly Kay’s MS progressed and she died on March 29, 1973. Anton was just weeks short of six years old.

Ernie spent 24 years as a social worker with the welfare department, and in 1984 he enrolled in USF’s Marriage, Family, and Child Counselor program. By 1986 he was a licensed counselor and had entered into private practice. He also trained in hypnotherapy, which he considered central to his work.

Ernie’s many interests included food (he delighted in gourmet cooking and eating), writing short stories and memoirs, participating in the Church choir and Taize prayer, and visiting and corresponding with prison inmates through the organization Loaves & Fishes.

He maintained his faith and his lifelong devotion to volunteering and parish activities, despite attempting to retire three times over the years. “Father Pearse McCarthy said to me, ‘There comes a time when you really do retire, Ernie. And then you remain open to the Call. But otherwise, relax and enjoy.” 

Ernie passed away peacefully at home in Sacramento on January 22, 2024. He is survived by his son Anton and daughter-in-law Julia, as well as numerous nieces and nephews. A funeral will be held on Saturday, February 24 at 10am at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Sacramento; all are invited to attend. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation in Ernie’s memory to one of his favorite local charitable organizations: Sacramento Food Bank, Loaves & Fishes, or Wellspring Women’s Center. Price Funeral Chapel (916-725-2109), directors.

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