Fr. David Baeten dies

By | December 1, 2010

“I’ve never had a lay person teach me,” he said in a 2005 interview with The Compass. “I had eight sisters teach me in grade school, the fraters and priests at St. Norbert High School in De Pere and priests at the seminary. I’m really a product of Catholic education.”

Fr. Baeten was ordained a priest by Bishop Stanislaus Bona on June 9, 1962, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay. He served as an assistant pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Marinette before becoming a chaplain at Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh and director for hospitals in the Green Bay Diocese. In 1972, he was appointed executive director of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains for the United States Catholic Conference. He spent four years in Washington, D.C.

He returned to the diocese in 1976 as coordinator and director of pastoral services at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay. He returned to parish ministry two years later as pastor of St. Mary Parish, Oshkosh. In 1988, Fr. Baeten took on what he described as a challenging, yet rewarding assignment. He was appointed pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Neenah, which was in the midst of financial troubles at the time. Fr. Baeten took a pastoral approach.

“I remember being scared that first Saturday,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to preach or not. I decided that I wasn’t going to talk about the problems, but would just talk about being their pastor. That was the best decision that I ever made in my life.”

Fr. Baeten became pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Allouez in 1994. He worked on the preparations for the new church, but left before its completion. A cardiac condition caused him to step down as pastor in 2002, but he was by no means retiring. Even when he was granted senior priest status in 2005, he continued to serve as on-call chaplain at St. Vincent and Bellin hospitals in Green Bay. He enjoyed visiting patients, anointing the sick and celebrating Mass, which was televised for the patients. All his appointments were a blessing, he said.

“The people have been very good to me,” he said. “All the places I’ve been, people have been very gracious.”

Fr. Baeten, the fourth of seven children, remained close to his five siblings throughout his priesthood. They usually talked each week and served as a great support system, he said. His older brother, Ralph, died following a boat fire in 1941.

As a senior priest, Fr. Baeten lived in De Pere only blocks away from where he spent his childhood. At the time of his death, he was a resident and sacramental chaplain at Bellevue Retirement Home. In addition to his brother, he was preceded in death by his parents. Survivors include his siblings: Joan and Ken Haen, Kaukauna; Doris and Richard Thomas, Wisconsin Rapids; Barbara and David Reinbold, Manitowoc; Ralph G. and Virginia Baeten, Green Bay; Virginia and Eugene Brown, Boston; many nieces, nephews and cousins.

The funeral Mass was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Dec. 2 at St. Matthew Church, Allouez, with Bishop David Ricken officiating, and Fr. Larry Seidl, Fr. Robert Fictum and the priests of the Diocese of Green Bay concelebrating. Burial will be held at Mt. Calvary Cemetery, De Pere. Online condolences may be sent to www.ryanfh.com. A memorial fund has been established for St. Matthew Parish and the Green Bay Diocesan Seminarian Fund in Fr. Baeten’s name.

Fr. Baeten requested that his funeral Mass be celebrated at St. Matthew Church. He was very influential in convincing the parish community that a new church was needed and in securing the finances. Fr. Larry Seidl, the current pastor at St. Matthew Parish, succeeded Fr. Baeten in Allouez and also at St. Mary Parish in Oshkosh.

“One of his outstanding qualities, one of the qualities I really admired was his ability to stay in touch with people,” said Fr. Seidl. “He continued to be a strong part of people’s lives even after he left a parish. Relationships didn’t end. The message that was sent is that he deeply cared about people. His relationship with them was not just his job as their pastor, but was deeply personal.”

Fr. Seidl noted that after leaving parish ministry, Fr. Baeten was able to find joy in serving people through healing ministry at hospitals and nursing homes.

“Even his last, more informal commitment (sacramental chaplain) to the Bellevue Retirement Home community was very meaningful to him,” said Fr. Seidl. “The people appreciated him and he was very well received.”

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