By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
CHARLESTON — The feeling amongst Bishop Robert J. Baker’s relatives was beyond joy as they watched their son and brother move from priest to prelate during his ordination Sept. 29 at the North Charleston Convention Center.
Row after row of the Baker clan smiled, cried and exulted as they shared the distinctive and defining moment in the life of this former Jacksonville, Fla., pastor.
“I felt like I was in heaven, like the queen of England,” exclaimed the bishop’s 83-year-old mother, Rosemary Baker.
Bishop Baker, 55, is her third son. The Ohio native described his ordination as awe-inspiring.
“We are so happy for him,” she said. “It delighted me to see the support he had. I have always prayed to the Lord and asked the intercession of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that I would live to see the day if he was ever made bishop. I thank God and the pope for appointing him.”
Mary Ann Jepsen, 45, the youngest and only daughter of the five Baker children shared her mother’s endearing feelings.
“As the sister of a bishop, I can’t imagine a more overwhelmingly joyful experience,” said Jepsen of Powell, Ohio.
The youngest son, Tom Baker, age 50, of Fostoria, Ohio, was very moved by the rite of ordination.
“I shivered at times. I was totally overwhelmed,” he said.
Approximately 3,000 people packed into the convention center, numbers that shocked Jepsen and her three brothers.
“I am very humbled by the overwhelming support and the amount of people who came,” Jepsen expressed. “So many people came up from Florida which is a testimony to the work he did down there, and the people who came from this diocese proved that Catholicism is alive and well in this country. I am proud of that. I couldn’t have been in a better place.”
When he recalled the size of the crowd, Tom said: “I knew our family loved him, but I just never realized how many other people loved him. I’m just happy to be his brother.”
“It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life,” echoed Jim Baker, 53, of Alvada, Ohio. “I can’t thank the people and Diocese of Charleston enough. It was a great occasion, a very spiritual occasion. I felt the presence of Christ with us.”
The only lamentable fact for the family was that their late father, Gerald, who died two years ago, missed the event.
“Dad would have done anything to have been with us,” Jim said, “and in a larger way, he was.”
Commenting on the dozens of relatives in attendance, Jim said: “I guess with this deal you get the whole family, not just the bishop.”
“We are very proud,” said Jack, the eldest at 57, who lives in Tampa, Fla. “It was much bigger than we thought it would be. The grouping together of all of those people was an impressive spiritual event. I’m very happy Bob is here. I’m sure they hate to lose him in Florida, but they see that he will be a plus here.”
Bishop Baker celebrated a special Mass for his family at his new seat, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the morning following his ordination. In his homily, he told his family that he hoped to increase his new family of religious by encouraging vocations.
“In today’s materialistic times, the solution is living simply, praying constantly and loving faithfully,” he said.
Continuing the family theme, the prelate also shared his first Cathedral Mass by renewing the vows of Loren and Rosemary Chalfin of Huron, Ohio. The couple was celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and are the parents of Becky Baker, Tom’s wife.