By Russ O'Reilly
HOLLIDAYSBURG - Franciscan friar Stephen Baker, who faced brewing litigation for alleged abuse, died Saturday at St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg. His death was ruled a suicide by Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross.
Photo for the Mirror by Nikole Johnston
Police responded to St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg Saturday morning, after officials were called at 7:30 a.m. for 'an individual deceased at the scene.'
Blair Township Police Chief Roger White said the cause of death was a self-inflicted knife wound. He said the investigation into Baker's death was closed.
An autopsy was conducted Saturday afternoon at Nason Hospital in Roaring Spring.
Baker was pronounced dead at the monastery by Blair County Deputy Coroner Brian Reidy.
At 7:35 a.m. today, the Blair Township Police Department, Hollidaysburg EMS and the Pennsylvania State Police were dispatched to the monastery located at 768 Monastery Road, Hollidaysburg.
Baker was discovered in his room by another resident of St. Bernardine's, who then made the initial call for assistance to emergency services.
St. Bernardine Minister Provincial Rev. Patrick Quinn said an investigation is continuing.
"The matter is under investigation by the authorities," Quinn said in a statement. "We will not be able to make further comment until the investigation is concluded. We express our regret and prayers to his family, and especially to all who have been impacted by this tragic situation."
Six police cars were at the scene by 9 a.m. An hour later, the Hollidaysburg Forensics Unit arrived followed a short time later by a medical van that came to pick the body.
Baker was in his 60s.
Baker's life unraveled quickly after it was reported last week by the Warren (Ohio) Tribune Chronicle that a settlement was reached with 11 men who claim they were molested by Baker while he coached baseball at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, from 1986 to 1990.
The Youngstown, Ohio, diocese told the Tribune Chronicle that the settlements were in the "high five figures" for each of the 11 men. The diocese is paying 30 percent of the settlements, while the Franciscan order is paying 70 percent, Bishop George V. Murry said.
When that news broke, it was learned that Baker had been living at St. Bernardine since 2012. He previously lived there from 2001-03.
Baker served as a religion teacher and athletic trainer at Bishop McCort in Johnstown from 1990 to 2000. He was removed from public ministry because the St. Bernardine Monastary was made aware of an allegation involving a man who was allegedly abused by Baker in the 1980s.
Despite that, the Mirror reported Saturday that Baker continued to maintain a presence in the area, particularly involving Bishop McCort athletics.
In the past week, attorney Richard Serbin was contacted to represent 12 young men who were allegedly victimized by Baker.
Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian said earlier this week he was investigating 25 new claims against Baker from alleged victims who attended two schools in Ohio and Bishop McCort.
"He's a serial pedophile who probably molested hundreds of children," said Garabedian, who represented 120 victims of over 40 different priests and obtained an $85 million settlement with the Archdiocese of Boston in 2003.
Garabedian was informed of Baker's death by the Mirror.
"It is unfortunate that Brother Stephen Baker passed away," he said. "I will continue to investigate my clients' claims and represent them with regard to negligence of Baker's superiors. Many of my clients are saddened by the passing of Brother Stephen Baker."
The Mirror will update this story throughout the day and have extensive coverage in Sunday's print edition.
See the link at the above link for background on the allegations that were unfolding against Baker.