338 West University Boulevard Tucson, Arizona 85705
520-623-6773
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In Memoriam 

Father Joseph Michael Baker

October 5, 1948 - January 14, 2007

Rev. Father Joseph Michael Baker, deceased

Father Baker was the Pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church at the time of his death on Sunday afternoon after a brief illness. Father Joe was he was known, was ordained on January 4, 1986 as a Roman Catholic Priest for the Diocese of Tucson and served at St. Luke's Parish in Douglas, St. Francis of Assisi Church in Yuma, Sacred Heart and St. Mary's Churches in Clifton. He also served as Chaplain for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Knights of Columbus and Holy Hope Cemetery.

Father Baker founded and was President of de Porres Caridad, Inc. a non-profit organization responsible for providing food and other necessities for the needy, serving over 100,000 meals each year for the poor and homeless. He received many awards during his ministry, including the Citizen of the Year Award twice from the National Association of Social Workers and his organization de Porres of Caridad was recognized with the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona for impact by a small business.

Father Baker is survived by his siblings: John (Dayle) Baker, Mary (Christopher) Bozell, Timothy Baker, Kathleen Baker and Elizabeth (Anthony) Supinski. Father Baker’s remains reside at Holy Hope Cemetery.

Here are more details of Father Joe's many accomplishments as covered by a local newspaper in Tucson:

Life's underdogs always had a friend in Father Joe

By Kimberly Matas

arizona daily star

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 01.18.2007

 

The Rev. Joseph Baker was known in the Holy Family Parish north of Downtown as a man dedicated to feeding the body as well as the soul. But he died Sunday leaving one friend hungry for more. "He owed me two dinners," said his friend of nearly 40 years, the Rev. John Fahey. He knew Baker before the Holy Family pastor became a priest. Fahey is retired now. The men often took turns buying each other dinner. Baker, according to friends, was easygoing and had a sense of humor. He likely would appreciate the irony of owing his friend a couple of meals.

Before succumbing to cancer-related complications at age 58, Baker had served as pastor of Holy Family Parish, 338 W. University Blvd., for more than a decade. In that time he made it his mission to feed the homeless and needy in his neighborhood. But he didn't confine his good works to the homeless. Baker also was an advocate for victims of sexual abuse by Southern Arizona priests. In 2000, he provided sworn testimony about the abuse of boys in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson. "All of the victims are extremely grateful for his honesty and bravery. This is a priest who was a hero to the victims. I thought he was one of the most honorable priests I ever met," said Tucson attorney Lynne M. Cadigan, who represented victims in multiple lawsuits against the Tucson diocese. Cadigan reached a settlement in 2002 for $14 million on behalf of 10 men and their families. She also represented 30 other people in lawsuits settled through the diocese's Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 2005. Cadigan said Baker's testimony about the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and about the subsequent cover-up by the diocese was key to winning a victory for the victims.

Since his testimony in 2000, Baker has focused on feeding the hungry and training the unemployed through the nonprofit Caridad-DePorres. During his tenure at Holy Family, Baker expanded the program from soup and sandwiches in the church parking lot to a freestanding 5,225-square-foot center down the street from the church. Parishioners prepare 10,000 meals a month that the non-denominational Caridad-DePorres distributes through 10 Tucson churches. "He was a lot of fun. He had a great sense of humor, but his big concern was the poor," said Nick Lepore, vice president of Caridad-DePorres. "He wasn't bashful. That's how we raised most of our money," Lepore said. Baker's fundraising skills allowed Caridad-DePorres to build its center without carrying a mortgage. "Father Joe was at every feeding, five nights a week," said Caridad office manager Debbie Purdom. "He was very involved in interacting with the people who were in need. "He was very caring. He really had a heart for the people he was helping. He was very hands-on and very involved in the Caridad program," Purdom said. "He was very considerate of people who were homeless, and conscious of their needs."

As part of Caridad, Baker started a program to help the unemployed find work and break their cycle of poverty.

"Father Joe felt that feeding people in need wasn't addressing the root cause of hunger so he developed a job-training program," Purdom said. "He had a way to draw people out," said Burt Neltmer, a Caridad board member and Holy Family deacon."He was a straight-shooter," said his friend, the Rev. Tom Millane, who's also retired. "You knew where he stood with people." Adding to his appeal, Neltmer and Millane said, was Baker's great sense of humor and his love of liquid refreshments. "He was like me," Millane said. "He liked a good can of beer." "That's why he liked me," Neltmer joked. "I work at Golden Eagle," a local beer distributor. Baker also liked to travel and took many trips with Fahey. The men were planning a trip to Hawaii this spring and were going to Bulgaria and France in the summer. Fahey isn't sure, now, if he will make the trips without his longtime friend.

 

● Reporter Stephanie Innes contributed to this story. ● Life Stories chronicles the lives of Tucsonans. To suggest someone who should be included, contact reporter Kimberly Matas at kmatas@azstarnet.com.

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