Taking ‘wrong class’ prompted Father Baker to enter seminary

| May 30, 2017 | 0 Comments

Father Paul Baker at his ordination Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul May 27. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Father Paul Baker remembers a time when sleep was hard to come by. He had graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 2009 with majors in history and geography, and thought he might go on to graduate school in library science.

He even visited the University of Wisconsin’s library science school.

“Upon visiting the school, I just felt that this really wasn’t for me, and this wasn’t what I wanted to do,” said Father Baker, 30, who grew up attending St. Peter in Mendota with his parents, Stephen and Claire, and two sisters, and graduated from Cretin-Derham Hall High School in 2005 after attending St. Joseph School in West St. Paul.

A deepening of faith during his college years eventually led him to ponder the priesthood.

That’s when his insomnia began.

Thoughts of the priesthood “just wouldn’t go away,” he said. “It was actually keeping me up at night. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. So, I figured I had to talk to someone about it.”

He discussed it with his pastor before visiting the Vocations Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He was handed an application for the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in October 2010 and filled it out a few months later. In the fall of 2011, he entered seminary and never looked back.

As he reflects on the seeds of his vocation, he points to a curve ball thrown at him his senior year of college that he now believes was God directing his future.

Students were required to take a seminar-style class that included many discussions and a paper at the end. He had his eye on a U.S. foreign policy class, and the procedure for enrolling required students to contact the professor directly.

“I tried and tried and tried to contact him, but was never able to reach him,” Father Baker recalled. “Finally, I emailed him one more time [saying] ‘I want to take your class.’ And he just sent me back this very terse email: ‘I’m sorry, the class is full.’ And, I was devastated, I was just crushed.”

He looked for other options and settled on a class called Christianity in Europe. The course sparked many questions for him about faith, most notably, “What is it really to be a Christian?”

Those questions, and the resulting reflections, showed him that the class was far more meaningful and relevant to where he was in his faith journey.

“What initially looked like a failure to join that one class I really wanted to take ended up being a blessing,” he said. “In the long run, this [Christianity] class helped me to grow in my faith.”

By the time he enrolled in seminary, he was confident in his calling to the priesthood. What took place during his formation there affirmed his calling. He also took solace in the fact that seminary leaders, all the way up to Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, gave their approval.

“I always felt comfortable in putting tremendous trust in the seminary system,” he said. “It’s really the seminary that’s discerning the man at that point.”

That’s not to say he never had doubts.

“There were periods, sometimes even long periods, of desolation or difficulty,” he said. “You wake up some mornings and you think to yourself, ‘What am I doing here?’ Or, ‘this is really hard right now.’ Or, ‘gosh, did I really make the right decision?’ For me, this happened later in the process. For some guys, it’s earlier. For me, it was tougher later on in my time here.”

Those doubts now are behind him, and he is focusing on his priestly ministry. He is excited to begin meeting the people he will be serving.

“What I most look forward to is the opportunity to share the faith with people, to help them grow in their faith, to help them deepen their faith, to do whatever I can to be God’s instrument to deepen their spiritual life, to have a better understanding of who they are as a Catholic and help them to know their vocation in life, what God wants them to do,” he said.

“One area I have really enjoyed working in is RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults],” he added. “It’s great to be able to answer people’s questions and help them grow in the faith and help them come into life in the Church.”

Father Baker will be ministering as parochial vicar of St. Vincent de Paul in Brooklyn Park.

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