By Claudia Mathis
The pews were completely filled at St. Patrick’s – St. Anthony’s Church in Chadwicks on August 27. Parishioners, friends and family gathered to bid farewell to their beloved former pastor, Father William Baker. He served St. Patrick’s Church in Clayville for 32 years before retiring in 2004. He passed away on August 19 at the age of 84.
Bishop Thomas Costello presided at the Mass of Christian Burial and Father Donald Karlen delivered the homily.
A native of Rome, Father Baker was born on Jan. 22, 1928, to John S. and Margaret (Rothmund) Baker. He attended Rome Free Academy, and after graduating, completed his theological studies at St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester, N.Y.
On Feb. 22, 1955, Father Baker was ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. He was first assigned to St. James in Syracuse. He then served at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Endicott, Blessed Sacrament in Utica and St. Francis de Sales in Utica.
Father Baker’s first pastorate was at St. Joseph’s in Sanitaria Springs, where he served three years before arriving at St. Patrick’s in Clayville.
Father Baker served as chaplain for Faxton Hospital in Utica as well as on the CCD Executive Committee in Syracuse. He also served as chaplain for the Mohawk Valley Institute in Utica and chaplain of the Sauquoit and Clayville Fire Departments.
Father Thomas McGrath, a friend of Father Baker’s, remembered how much he loved his parish and his dedication and love of the priesthood. “His parish was his whole life, his family,” said Father McGrath. “It must have been very hard for him when he retired.”
Father McGrath also recalled Father Baker’s wonderful sense of humor.
Father Karlen, as a life-long friend of Father Baker’s, had been asked by him to present the homily years ago.
“We’re here this morning for three reasons,” said Father Karlen. “To share our grief, to have our own faith re-energized and to thank the Father for the gift and mystery of the life of William S. Baker.”
Father Baker will be remembered for his care and compassion for the sick.
Father Karlen said that there was an incident in Father Baker’s youth that sensitized and framed his priestly life. After his first year of studies at his seminary, Father Baker withdrew to become a resident at Broad Acres Sanitarium in Utica. He was a victim of tuberculosis.
“At every parish that he served, he knew first hand what it meant to be alone, to be sick and to suffer — he never forgot it,” said Father Karlen. “He was roused repeatedly day and night to the three hospitals in Utica.”
Father Baker has been described by those he served as a great friend, a wonderful neighbor and a lover of animals.
His parishioners meant the world to him. He kept a log of every baptism he performed over a period of 30 years. One of his goals was to baptize the offspring of those he had previously baptized.
Father Karlen mentioned that after he retired, Father Baker kept an address book filled with the names and addresses of the people he had mentored through their sicknesses.
Father Karlen remembered that for Father Baker, celebrating the Eucharist was an essential part of his life. “What he did best was at the altar — he offered Mass,” said Father Karlen.
Father Karlen’s favorite memory of Father Baker is of him sitting in his chair every day at 12 p.m., listening to Mass on EWTN-TV and celebrating the Eucharist.
And later, when Father Baker resided at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home in Utica, he considered it the ultimate blessing to be able to celebrate the Eucharist. “He continued to do what he did best,” said Father Karlen. “He believed that it was the most important moment of the day and it was certainly the center of his life.”
Father Karlen concluded his homily with a recitation of a traditional Irish blessing:
“May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”