Barry Stenger, Philosophy '73

Called to Action

Barry Stenger '73 practices what he preaches at San Francisco nonprofit St. Anthony Foundation

As a USF student Barry Stenger ’73 marched down Geary Boulevard with his philosophy professor to protest the Vietnam War. He took the bus to the Salinas Valley to support exploited farmworkers, and picketed grocery stores in San Francisco during a United Farm Workers-led grape strike. After graduating, he even sat in on a meeting with famed labor leader Cesar Chavez.

USF, the philosophy major says, is a place he learned to wield his Catholic values and commitment to social justice to press for change. He hasn’t stopped. Barry’s now the executive director of San Francisco’s St. Anthony Foundation, a social services nonprofit that feeds, clothes, and provides medical and rehabilitative services to thousands of the city’s most vulnerable residents — including hundreds of children.

“USF isn’t something that’s in a yearbook on a shelf somewhere for me,” he says. “What I learned there is still very much alive for me.”

Crucible of faith and justice

Stenger describes his life as a road “filled with twists and turns.” He has been a priest, a professor, a fundraiser, and a father, among other things. Through it all, the constant element has been his faith. 

My years at USF became the crucible where faith and justice were forged into an inseparable vision that has guided much of my life’s work.

The Oakland native was raised in a Catholic family and graduated from St. Anthony’s Seminary high school, intent on becoming a priest. He then attended San Luis Rey College, a Franciscan seminary in Southern California, for a year before it closed after his freshman year. Then he transferred to USF for its strong Christian philosophy faculty.

At USF, Barry found a mentor in philosophy professor Fr. Geoffrey Bridges, a Franciscan friar who practiced what he preached: extolling social justice principles while actively participating in the anti-war movement, the farm-worker movement, and other political causes of the time. Barry took to the streets with Fr. Bridges and discovered how the values he studied in class could be lived out in real life.

“My years at USF became the crucible where faith and justice were forged into an inseparable vision that has guided much of my life’s work,” he says.

Where compassion comes from

After graduating, Barry continued down the road of brotherhood. He studied theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and was assigned by the Franciscans to be a priest in a poor neighborhood in west Las Vegas. He was later called upon to continue his graduate studies at the University of Chicago. After earning a doctoral degree in social ethics, he began a 12-year academic career teaching Christian ethics and liberation theology at the Graduate Theological Union and Santa Clara University.

In 1992, Barry fell in love and left the Franciscans to start a family. But he didn’t completely cut ties: He later took a job as the development director for the St. Anthony Foundation, which is run by the Franciscans. In 2012, he was promoted to executive director, a position where he oversees 143 employees and steers a nonprofit that serves meals to more than 800,000 men, women, and children annually; provides clothing to more than 10,000; and offers medical care to more than 4,000.

USF remains a major part of his life: Many of St. Anthony’s volunteers are USF students, alumni, or faculty.

“Where do the people of this city learn such generosity and compassion?” Barry asks. “At places like USF. There’s a sense of goodness on the Hilltop that overflows into the life of the city. To be part of that is very satisfying to me.”