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January 27, 2013

Brother commits suicide: Self-inflicted knife wound cited

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Brother Paul Stephen Baker, the Franciscan friar who was the subject of a sex scandal at Bishop McCort Catholic High School, died Saturday from a self-inflicted knife wound.

Baker, 62, who was living at the St. Bernardine Monastery, took his life at the facility, located at 768 Monastery Road, Hollidaysburg, said a statement from Blair Township police Chief Roger White.

White said his department, Hollidaysburg EMS and the Pennsylvania State Police were called to the monastery at 7:35 a.m. in response to an individual who reportedly was not breathing.

Baker, also known as Stephen Baker, was discovered in his room by another resident of the monastery who initially summoned an ambulance, White said.

He is believed to have stabbed himself just prior to him being discovered, White said.

Baker was pronounced dead at the scene by Blair County Deputy Coroner Brian Reidy.

Confirmation of the suicide did not come until late Saturday afternoon following a 2 p.m. autopsy at Nason Hospital, Roaring Spring.

In a short statement from Brother John Kerr, inside a small room in the aging multi-story brick monastery, Father Patrick Quinn, Third Order Regular, minister provincial confirmed Baker’s passing.

“We regret to announce that Br. Stephen Baker died this morning,” Quinn wrote in the statement. “The matter is under investigation by the authorities.

“We will not be able to make further comment until the investigation is concluded.”

During the past 10 days, dozens of former male students from Bishop McCort have come forward, alleging that Baker sexually molested them.

Quinn fell short of citing the allegations, though he made reference to them.

“We express our regret and prayers to his family and especially to all who have been impacted by this tragic situation,” Quinn concluded.

Kerr, who answered the door at the monastery, said that Quinn was out of town Saturday and unavailable for comment.

In responding to questions by The Tribune-Democrat, Kerr said that Baker was the cook at the monastery. He added that he was a good cook.

Prior to Baker’s death, there were eight residents at St. Bernardine, Kerr said.

Tony DeGol, spokesman of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, said Bishop Mark Bartchak was saddened by news of Baker’s death.

Citing pending legal action, DeGol said in a statement that no further comment would be made.

“Bishop Bartchak continues to pray for everyone during this difficult time,” DeGol wrote.

Baker, whose past has been difficult to track, came to Bishop McCort around 1992. While a Franciscan, he worked at the high school under the authority of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese as a religion instructor and in the athletic department.

It was while he worked with high school athletes through the early 2000s that many of the sexual assaults allegedly occurred. Victims who have been coming forward are alleging various degrees of sexual assault. The offenses usually took place in a whirlpool or on a table in the athletic department.

Victims also have told attorneys that some of the assaults occurred in Baker’s van.

The allegations from former Bishop McCort students surfaced after a settlement of civil suits recently was announced between 11 former students of the John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.

Baker had worked at the Ohio school as an instructor and in the athletic department from 1986 to 1991. It was his last assignment before coming to Bishop McCort, according to a timeline provided to The Tribune-Democrat by SNAP – the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

During his time in Ohio, it is alleged that Baker molested at least two boys attending St. Mary’s Catholic Middle School, a feeder school for JFK.

Last week, Greensburg attorney Susan Williams filed notice of intent to pursue civil action against the Franciscans, the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese and Bishop McCort.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Saturday that an allegation in 2000 out of Minnesota prompted Baker’s reassignment from Bishop McCort to Blair County, initially to St. Joseph’s Friary in Hollidaysburg, then to St. Bernardine.

Quinn told the Post-Gazette the Minnesota allegation was a single event and did not involve a school.

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