The Star of The Basilica of St. Mary

Interview with Father John Baker


With a slight self-deprecating wit and charming smile, Father John Baker radiates energy, warmth and steadfast faith in our community. Just mention his name and parishioners, as well as civilians, gush with affection for him. Father Baker understands not everyone believes in Catholicism, but that won’t stop him from believing in everyone. He was an Army kid, born in Massachusetts and since he was 6 months old, lived from England to the plains of Nebraska. Like many in the Keys, he is used to the nomadic life and willfully accepts whatever may come. After high school, Father Baker thought about radio broadcasting and even marriage, but as he said, “I really did have a higher calling.” (The calling also includes vegetarianism.) His service has led him from the Portuguese parishes of Rhode Island all the way to St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Key West. “I fell in love with it here when the Pope recognized the Basilica but even more deeply after Irma.” Father Baker proudly reopened St. Mary’s 12 hours after the storm. Watching hundreds flock to the grotto before and after, he found the faith of the county so remarkable and real. “The brilliance of the grotto is it doesn’t impose faith but invites it. And faith helps us to thrive.” While Father Baker is grateful to put the storm in the past, he won’t easily forget “how kind and wondrous our community is at taking care of each other.”

Full Name? John Clement Baker.

Worst nickname? Never had one.

Do you have a life credo or motto? No.

You stayed for Irma, Looking back, what did you learn from the experience? I saw such goodness in others. Also, our city officials are amazing at what they do; they were so prepared and gave so much.

You give to the community; how does it give back to you? I am so inspired by everyone here, I try to keep up. So many people who live here choose not to be mediocre, so I can’t be, either.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? It was amazing when the Pope recognized St. Mary’s as a Basilica. Also, inviting the Sisters of The Holy Spirit from Tanzania; their depth of service is a wonderful presence. I want to make sure the community has a richer, fuller religious staff, not just me. Even I get sick of me all the time.

If you could grant Key West one wish, what would it be? That all the bars shut at 11 p.m. As they say in AA, nothing good happens after 11.

Which TV, movie or super hero character is your alter ego? I am just me.

What is your nerdiest passion? I paint with Jim Salem. I just love that time creating. (He uses pastels.)

What is your most treasured possession? A cross given to me from someone in maximum security when I worked with the Rhode Island prison system- It was woven from a trash bag.

If invisible, what would you do in Key West? Same as what I do when I am visible.

What is your greatest fear? We are the only Catholic service in 35 miles and there is no alternative, so I wouldn’t want to let people down by not having worship be available.

Favorite guilty pleasure? Audible books.

Who is your favorite saint? There are just too many.

Do you have a favorite Bible story? This one makes me laugh, Job’s wife in the book of Job says, “Just curse God and die.” It shows we all get flustered and are human.

For lunch with one famous person, whom would you choose? I get to eat lunch with Jesus every day, so the second best would be Britt Myers; he has more integrity than Rupert Murdoch.

Finish these sentences..

My friends and family would describe me as … active and most uncoordinated.

My autobiography would be titled … Yours.

I can’t refuse … the sacraments to anyone who wants them.

When I go, I will go … Amen.


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