JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — With mixed feelings — great joy and pride but also a sense of separation — Bishop John J. Snyder of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., and Bishop Robert J. Baker met with the Sunshine State media at a July 16 press conference at The Catholic Center in Jacksonville to discuss Bishop Baker’s appointment to the Diocese of Charleston.
The event occurred three days after Bishop Baker was first introduced publicly as the 12th prelate of the Charleston Diocese by Bishop David B. Thompson at a July 13 meeting at the Cathedral Center of St. John the Baptist.
“It is a source of great joy and pride for all in the Diocese of St. Augustine to have one of its own priests chosen for this important pastoral responsibility,” said Bishop Snyder in his opening remarks at the gathering.
Over the 29 years of his priesthood, Father Baker has been an exemplary priest wherever he has been called to serve, the bishop said.
“He is remembered as a zealous young priest when he was an assistant at St. Paul Parish in Jacksonville Beach. His pastoral leadership at St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center in Gainesville was marked by a genuine interest in the spiritual growth and development of both the students and faculty.”
Bishop Snyder added that, as a pastor of sacramental theology at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Fla., Bishop Baker was not only a competent professor, but in addition, a fine role model for future priests.
“For 13 years as the pastor of the Cathedral-Basilica in St. Augustine, he provided an outstanding ministry marked by concern and compassion, especially toward the poor and marginalized,” said the St. Augustine ordinary.
Both in Gainesville as well as in St. Augustine, he was instrumental in providing an ecumenical program that fed and housed the hungry and homeless.
“Father Baker, sensing the need for an effective program for those with addictions, brought to St. Augustine an approach developed by Sister Elvira of Italy,” recounted Bishop Snyder. “This center of care and rehabilitation is now located on Route 16, west of St. Augustine, and is known as Our Lady of Hope Farm.”
For the past two years, Father Baker has served as pastor of Christ the King Parish in the Arlington suburb of Jacksonville where he has continued to nurture the outstanding commitment to stewardship initiated and developed by Msgr. Mortimer Danaher, the Florida prelate stressed.
“While we rejoice in the opportunity for Father Baker to use his gifts for the Church in the Diocese of Charleston, there is a sense of sadness as we share one of our special gifts with the people of South Carolina,” concluded Bishop Snyder.
Following up on his former bishop’s comments, Bishop Baker emphasized, “My agenda in life is not mine but God’s, and my only desire is to follow His Will for me. That Holy Will now leads me to the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina.”
After taking questions from media at the event, Bishop Snyder placed a red zuchetto on Bishop Baker’s head before they departed.
Photo: Bishops Robert J. Baker and John J. Snyder at the press conference.