Florida parish priest named Bishop of Charleston

CHARLESTON — Pope John Paul II has appointed Father Robert J. Baker, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Jacksonville, Fla., as Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston.

The appointment was announced in Washington July 13 by Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. Bishop David B. Thompson, current Bishop of Charleston, introduced Bishop Baker at a press conference later that day in Charleston.

Bishop Baker’s episcopal ordination will be held Sept. 29 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston.

“It is with humble gratitude that I accept the trust our Holy Father has placed in me, and I now look forward with anticipation, joy, and confidence in the Lord to serving the dedicated priests, religious, and lay men and women of the historic Diocese of Charleston,” Bishop Baker said. “It is an honor to follow in the very capable footsteps of Bishop Thompson.”

Bishop Baker, son of Rosemary and the late Gerald S. Baker, was born in 1944 in Willard, Ohio, one of five children in a Catholic family. He studied at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in divinity. He also holds a doctorate degree in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy.

He was ordained to the priesthood March 21, 1970, at his home parish of St. Wendelin in Fostoria, Ohio. His first assignment was as assistant pastor at St. Paul Catholic Church in Jacksonville Beach, Fla. He also served for 13 years as pastor of the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine in St. Augustine, Fla., and was appointed pastor of Christ the King in 1997.

In addition to his pastoral assignments, Bishop Baker has done extensive work in education and outreach.

Following his ordination in 1970, he served as an instructor of religion at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville and was named director of its religion department in 1971. In 1976, he was assigned as administrator of St. Augustine Catholic Church in Gainesville, Fla., and served as administrator of the Catholic Student Center and chairman of the Campus Ministry Cooperative at the University of Florida. From 1981 to 1984, he taught sacramental theology at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Fla.

While at St. Augustine Parish in Gainesville, he helped establish St. Francis Soup Kitchen and St. Francis House of Shelter. During his pastorate at Cathedral parish in St. Augustine, he helped establish an additional St. Francis House and the St. Vincent de Paul Farm for the Homeless and Addicted.

Bishop Baker will be the 12th bishop of the 179-year-old diocese, which comprises the entire state of South Carolina. Bishop Thompson, as required by church law, submitted his resignation letter on his 75th birthday May 29, 1998, to Pope John Paul II. He has served as Bishop of Charleston since 1990.

Bishop Thompson said: “Bishop Baker, we pledge to you from this moment onward our love and loyalty, our friendship and prayers, our support and obedience. We are blessed to call you our Bishop.”