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The Baker family, a heritage of faith

By DEIRDRE C. MAYS

Warmth is a signature characteristic in the Baker family. With exceptional consistency, the trait exudes from the five siblings and its source is apparent in their mother.

It is little wonder that Bishop Robert J. Baker found his way to a blessed priesthood and on to the episcopacy with the support and unconditional love he has received from his family.

Rosemary Alt Baker

Rosemary Alt Baker, 83, is the proud mother of four sons and a daughter, all devout Catholics sharing faith, borne by a love and precious familial cohesiveness.

Mrs. Baker grew up in Ohio, the daughter of Blanche Sutter Alt and Clemence Alt, the oldest of nine children. She graduated from St. Rita’s School of Nursing and was a registered nurse, when she married her late husband, Gerald S. Baker, on Feb. 22, 1941.

The Baker couple settled in Fostoria, Ohio, to raise their family. Both had been born into Catholicism, she of German heritage and he of Irish descent. Their faith was the backbone of their home life. They went to Mass regularly. She is a daily communicant. They prayed the rosary and attended novena services.

That love of God also helped carry the family through life, particularly when Gerald died in 1997.

“I’ve always been a good Catholic, and I have always had a great devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help,” Mrs. Baker said. “I found a novena to her at St. Rita’s. I’ve had a lot of blessings and graces through her novenas since then.”

She recalled taking her young son, Bob, to Mass with her, and how he sometimes played the organ during the service. She was not surprised that the 13-year-old went to seminary. His faith was apparent at an early age, and he also had the added influence of her brother, Father Clement Alt, and her uncle, the late Father Benjamin Alt, both Precious Blood priests.

“They were instrumental in helping Bob decide,” Mrs. Baker explained. “He had always said he wanted to go. I was a little surprised, but happy for him. I always tried to help and encourage him.”

However, the Baker matriarch never suspected that her son would call her to say that he had been chosen bishop for the Diocese of Charleston.

“I was really surprised because he thought he was getting too old,” she laughed. “He was surprised, and I was surprised. We were all happy and delighted because it is a real honor. I’m really proud of him, but we’ve all always been really proud of him. He has been an inspiration for others. I am happy that God has chosen him. I hope people will be inspired to vocations at his ordination.”

Throughout his life, Mrs. Baker has seen her son as the dedicated and faithful priest he is.

“I am sure that with God’s help and the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit and blessed mother he will do all right,” she said confidently.

Dr. John C. Baker

At 57, Jack is the oldest of the five Baker children. He is an orthopedic surgeon who lives in Tampa with his wife, Arlene. They have two sons, Michael, 33, and Kevin, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 27.

The Baker family all attended Catholic schools growing up. With a devout mother and father, Jack said it was not a shock that one of their own should enter the priesthood.

“A lot of people in those days took that path,” he explained. “There was a lot of encouragement for that type of vocation in the town we grew up in. Father Cleo Schmenk was one that encouraged it. Every year, four or five kids out of the eighth grade would go to the minor seminary and most would come back. People would keep pushing it.”

He comes from a tight, “megafamily,” he said.

“My mother’s brothers and sisters all had about five or six kids, so we had a lot of cousins, a lot of support,” he said. “The family always had something going on. It was after World War II, which was a different time.”

The eldest Baker describes his brother with pride.

“Bob is a very humble guy,” he said. “He is really, honestly, a true Christian.”

As a bishop, Jack expects little to change with his younger sibling.

“I don’t think it’s going to make a bit of difference,” he averred. “Bob will be the same person he was before. He’s not going to alter his view of things. He’s basically a parish priest type of individual.”

He remembered the young priest helping migrant workers, campaigning against capital punishment when it was not fashionable, working as a prison chaplain and helping drug addicts.

“Bob really believes what you do to the least of my people is what you do to me,” Jack said. “That is his strong card. He is able to get diversified people all pulling in the same direction. I think he’s a good leader.”

His faith has had a lifelong effect on Jack, and he believes it’s because it comes naturally to the new bishop.

“What you see is what you get,” Jack said. “He has the ability to lead other people in the right direction and organize things.”

James E. Baker

As the third son born only 15 months behind Bob, Jim Baker said his brother was his friend and mentor.

“People occasionally mistook us for twins,” he remembered. “When he went to Josephinum, I kind of felt that I had lost my best friend. How does a kid understand what they were doing at that age? Bob always did. My earliest recollection is that Bob always wanted to be a priest.”

Jim described visiting his brother at seminary.

“They had these visiting Sundays, and the whole family would pack up, three or four times a year,” he said. “We would go to the gymnasium and wait for the boys to come out. I always thought the place was like a prison, but Bob would come out smiling. Then I realized that he was part of our family, but he belonged to something much bigger.”

As a family, though, Jim said they played together and prayed together. Those are values he shares with his own

family. Now 54, Jim lives in Alvada, Ohio, with his wife, Linda. He works in the recreational department of North Central Correctional Institution and sells real estate. The couple has three children, Brian, 23, Emily, 22, and Danny, 20.

Jim believes Bob had a big impact on his life.

“You can’t help but be touched and moved by someone who is a very good person,” he said. “Bob has a very quiet way of convincing people. He’s not a hard sell, but quietly wins people over. He moves mountains a shovel at a time.”

One big influence the priest has had on his brother is his opposition to the death penalty.

“I used to feel strongly about capital punishment,” Jim insisted. “After I talked to Bob, he very quietly won me over. He’s an intellectual, a very quiet intellectual and he has won me over on a lot of issues. He has an impact on everybody he touches.”

With the intuition of family, Jim knew that his brother would achieve great things in his ministry.

“I just knew that bob would someday step into this job,” he said. “He has always modeled himself after St. Francis of Assisi and from what I know, Bob has done a pretty good job. He’s always got his hand out to the poor to help him. He is not a person hung up on material things. I have to take my hat off to him.”

Thomas G. Baker

Tom, 50, is the youngest brother who kept the priest grounded.

“Just because he’s bishop doesn’t mean we treat him any differently,” he cracked.

Tom and his wife, Becky, live in Fostoria, Ohio. They have three daughters, Angela, 24, Meg, 22, and Kelly, 20. He owns a beer and wine carry out store and also manages family owned rental properties with his brother Jim.

His wife, Becky jokingly told her priest brother-in-law that he was going to be a pope someday.

“He said that popes aren’t American but I said he was going to be the first,” she laughed.

Tom was nine when his brother went to Josiphinum seminary.

“Bob was always a very nice boy,” he said. “The rest of us got into a little difficulty here and there but Bob never did. “We’re very close to this day, very tied together. The family is the main thing and, growing up, it was all basically working around the family. Whatever was good for the family good for us. He’s a super guy.”

It’s a well known fact in the Baker family that to give the priest money is to watch him give it away to someone in need.

“He would do anything for anybody,” Tom said. “One time I went down to visit him in Gainesville and I remember walking across campus with him to go have a beer. Three different people came up and asked him for money. It was upsetting for me because as soon as they asked he gave everything he had.

“By the time the third guy asked, he said ‘I really wanted to buy my brother a beer’ and the guy said ‘Ok, father, I won’t take your last dollar.’ Bob took a vow of poverty and he believes in it.”

Looking up to his brother is easy for Tom.

“He’s an exceptional priest,” he said. “He’s never judged me. He looks at the good point of every person and that’s how he takes people. He likes everybody for what they are. That’s his greatest quality. I would do anything for him.”

Mary Ann Jepsen

Being the youngest of five provided a different vantage point for Mary Ann Jepsen. She got to know her brothers after they had grown.

She admires her older brother and humorously prides herself on keeping him grounded.

“We give him a reality check when he spends time with us,” she said. “The week before being called by the papal nuncio, he was with us. He and my husband Stephen were driving a beat up old dump truck hauling junk. When my mother told me the good news I called my husband and he said, ‘you mean I was driving the bishop of Charleston around!'”

Mary Ann is 45 and she lives with her husband in Powell, Ohio, outside of Columbus. She is a nurse and works part time in husband’s vascular surgery office. She spends the rest of her time raising their four sons, Luke, 13, Matthew, 12, Mark, 9, and Sean, 7.

Like her brothers, Catholicism is foremost in her family’s life.

“It is the central focus of our lives, everything we do,” she said attributing it to her mother. “She came from a real agrarian, German family. They were very close to the earth and very close to their church. Those values, God and family, that was most important in their lives and it was passed on to us through her traditions.

“My father was very involved in the church too, though his spirituality was different,” Mary Ann continued. “Mother was always praying the rosary every day. My father was a funeral director so he dealt with the spiritual issues of sending people off.”

Twelve years separates Mary Ann from Jack, the oldest Baker. Growing up, however, the little sister was close to her brothers.

“I am so grateful I have brothers that have been wonderful to me,” she said. “It really made my life so complete. Like any kids we have had little spats. I worshiped the ground my brothers walked on. They would toss me around and I always wanted to be around them and their friends.”

With all of the siblings, family closeness was reiterated over and over.

“There was always God and family,” Mary Ann remarked. “Even though we may have been separated by time and place like we are now, we have always been very close.”

She can’t help but look up to her bishop brother in particular.

“He is the kind of guy that I can honestly say that every breath he breathes is for the honor and glory of God,” she said. “He’s a holy man. We just love him to pieces. The rest of us are the ordinary clods that walk the earth. How did this guy land in our family? His goodness almost brings you to tears.”

As Tom said, Mary Ann repeated that her brother is always thinking of others.

“My dad said that when he was even a young boy, if you give Bob a dime he gives it away,” she recalled. “Dad would give him lunch money and he would give it to somebody who needed it.”

He has exposed some of his family to his ministries.

“He has taken me to amazing places,” Mary Ann said. “I have never been. comfortable with death row inmates, or the poorest of the poor. He has reached out into those far corners where most of us wouldn’t go. He finds Jesus in those places and he has shown me Jesus in those places.

“It’s almost like the lepers reaching out and I am thinking, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him and see these people reaching out and hugging him. Spiritually it’s good to do those things because you do see the face of Christ in those people. “

People tell the bishop’s sister how he has changed their lives and she is thankful now for the experiences.

“Nothing surprises me with him any more,” she said. ” He’s a real people person. We’re just so honored to have him as a brother and he brings out the good in all of us.”

the recreational department of North Central Correctional Institution and sells real estate. The couple has three children, Brian, 23, Emily, 22, and Danny, 20.

Jim believes Bob had a big impact on his life.

“You can’t help but be touched and moved by someone who is a very good person,” he said. “Bob has a very quiet way of convincing people. He’s not a hard sell, but quietly wins people over. He moves mountains a shovel at a time.”

One big influence the priest has had on his brother is his opposition to the death penalty.

“I used to feel strongly about capital punishment,” Jim insisted. “After I talked to Bob, he very quietly won me over. He’s an intellectual, a very quiet intellectual, and he has won me over on a lot of issues. He has an impact on everybody he touches.”

With the intuition of family, Jim knew that his brother would achieve great things in his ministry.

“I just knew that Bob would someday step into this job,” he said. “He has always modeled himself after St. Francis of Assisi and from what I know, Bob has done a pretty good job. He’s always got his hand out to the poor to help them. He is not a person hung up on material things. I have to take my hat off to him.”






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