Louis G. “Lou” Baldwin, a Catholic journalist and gentleman known by generations of Philadelphia Catholics for his bylines on news and feature stories for 35 years, died Oct. 18 in Philadelphia. He was 86.
A native of the city he loved and for which he developed an encyclopedic knowledge, Mr. Baldwin was best known as a staff writer for The Catholic Standard and Times, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Funeral services for Mr. Baldwin will be held Saturday, Oct. 23 at St. Christopher Church in Northeast Philadelphia. The viewing is at 10 a.m. and the funeral Mass follows at 11.
Born in West Philadelphia in the former St. James Parish, Mr. Baldwin as a boy became an orphan during the Great Depression and was sent to the former St. Francis Vocational School in Eddington in 1947.
It was the beginning of a connection he would share with Mother Katharine Drexel, the heir to the Drexel family fortune who left a life of privilege to found the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
Her family had founded the orphanage, and Mr. Baldwin formed a lifelong love for Mother Katharine and her sisters. He was the author of two biographies of her that helped to spread devotion ahead of her canonization in 2000 as a saint of the Catholic Church.
While a resident of the orphanage he attended St. Bernard School then Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia. After graduation in 1952, entered the U.S. Army and served as a cryptographer during the Korean War.
Returning home, Mr. Baldwin attended the University of Pennsylvania. He then met and later married Rita Crawford, his wife of 61 years. He and the woman he would call “lover” and “my passion flower” would settle in the city’s Tacony section and raise nine children in St. Leo Parish.
Mr. Baldwin would work at varying times during the day as a stock broker on the Philadelphia exchange, as an accountant or a librarian. He also found part-time work at night selling appliances at a Sears store in South Philadelphia. He became known then for a trait that he made a lifelong habit: he was a walker.
Following a night shift in South Philadelphia, or a meeting of his Knights of Columbus council there, Mr. Baldwin would often to walk the 11 mile-journey back home to Tacony in Northeast Philadelphia.
“He had tremendous support for the Knights,” said Lou Campione of De Soto Council #315, of which Mr. Baldwin was a member for more than 50 years. “He grew up in an orphanage, and the Knights would come to give gifts to the children. He wanted to do all he could to extend that service.”
When St. Francis faced closure in 1984, Mr. Baldwin sent a reflection on the orphanage and on the saintly sisters who founded it – Louise, Elizabeth and Katharine Drexel – and sent the piece to The Catholic Standard and Times.
Managing editor Michael Houldin read the piece and liked it, and suggested to the editor that the paper publish it. “Sure, let’s run it,” said then-Msgr. John P. Foley. “Pay him $25.”
That led to a position as staff writer with the paper in 1986, where Mr. Baldwin wrote some half-dozen stories a week, at least, until 2004.
He wrote a biography of Mother Katharine, soon to be declared “blessed” by the church in 1988, as a supplement to the CS&T that year, and it was published in book form as “A Call to Sanctity: The Formation and Life of Mother Katharine Drexel,” later that year.
He would follow it with a second biography, “Saint Katharine Drexel: Apostle to the Oppressed” in 2000.
Helping to edit the latter work at that time was Elena Perri, copy editor for the CS&T from 1997 to 2002.
“He could certainly write copy quickly and efficiently, and always on time (providing) whatever we needed each week,” she said. “He appreciated someone who reviewed his writing. Getting it right was important to him.”
She remembers well how during an office Christmas party Mr. Baldwin dispensed retirement planning advice to her on a cocktail napkin. “And I still have it,” she said.
She also remembered how in the office, “he was fun to work with,” and how he showed his mischievous side. A colleague preferred to have any books, reports or files in the office arranged neatly and precisely, so Mr. Baldwin skewed and rearranged them with quiet delight.
During many of Mr. Baldwin’s years at the CST, his managing editor was Joseph Ryan, who found it interesting that the writer died on the feast day of the Gospel author St. Luke the Evangelist because Mr. Baldwin had spent so many years “writing about the people of God and the life of the church.”
“I was privileged to know and work with him,” Ryan said. “He was one of the most talented journalists in the Catholic press nationwide. Always a loyal son of the church, Lou was a great writer who could cover the groundbreaking for a parish building, a Right to Life march, or the talk of a visiting cardinal at the seminary with accuracy, insight and warmth.
“The stories and books Lou wrote on Philadelphia’s St. Katharine Drexel were the hallmarks of Lou’s talent for research, his courtly writing style and endless energy.
“Lou was a Catholic gentleman through and through. I will miss his wisdom, mischievous humor and friendship.”
Joining Mr. Baldwin as staff writer at the paper in 1992 was Christie Chicoine. She remembers him as “a devout Catholic, a devoted Catholic journalist and a cherished colleague and friend to the end. A gentleman, he was bold and brilliant; many described him as a walking encyclopedia,” she said.
“He was humble, honest and hilarious — a clever prankster in the newsroom,” Chicoine said. “Now he has no more deadlines to chase and all his questions are answered.”
Colleagues remember how Mr. Baldwin covered stories across the Philadelphia Archdiocese even though he never drove a car, instead covering assignments by walking or taking a bus, trolley or train.
His penchant for traveling by foot led him not only to meet the people he found there, he also lived as a homeless man for a week on the streets of Philadelphia, reporting on the hardships of those homeless people and the outreach of ministries to them, in an extensive series for the CS&T in 1995.
In a reflection he wrote on the occasion of his retirement from full-time writing in 2004, Mr. Baldwin cited some of the countless people he had interviewed and stories he’d reported on over the years.
Among his favorites were Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, CIA Director William Casey, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Catholic teachers’ union leader Rita Schwartz, Sister Mary Scullion, opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, pro-life issues, treatment of immigrants, the Cambodian killing fields, welfare reform, mushroom farm workers and the Appalachian Trail, which Mr. Baldwin once hiked.
Of course he also interviewed cardinals, bishops, clergy and lay people in the archdiocese and beyond.
In the 2004 reflection, he acknowledged writing extensive biographies of bishops of Philadelphia for the CS&T.
“In writing,” he said,” I always tried to present them as ordinary, decent people, not remote dignitaries. I took my cue from St. Katharine’s advice when she told her sisters to be kind to the children ‘If they love you, they will listen when you tell them about Jesus.’ The bishop’s task is to teach; mine was to present them as people to whom you would want to listen.”
In an interview last summer, Mr. Baldwin said, “I worked with many bishops, but my favorite was Cardinal (John) Krol. He was brilliant, and he knew it.”
Retirement did not last long, and in 2007 Mr. Baldwin returned to reporting for the CS&T as a freelance writer, producing the same volume of weekly stories until 2012.
In that year the CS&T ceased publishing, so Mr. Baldwin continued to write faithfully for the next nine years for the paper’s digital successor, CatholicPhilly.com.
His byline appeared in print again in February 2020 with an eight-page biography of Archbishop Nelson J. Perez, the current Archbishop of Philadelphia, in a Catholic Philly print supplement.
Mr. Baldwin’s last piece for Catholic Philly ran in January 2021 with a story he wrote about St. Frances Cabrini.
(Stories in digital format by Mr. Baldwin dating from 2008 may be found on CatholicPhilly.com; search for “Lou Baldwin”.)
Later this year he and Rita moved from their home in Tacony to assisted living at Paul’s Run, a retirement community in Northeast Philadelphia that, as providence would have it, is also the residence of retired Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
Mr. Baldwin received the National Peace and Justice Award by the sisters in 2013, numerous awards for writing by the Catholic Press Association (now the Catholic Media Association) of the United States and Canada, and a nomination for the St. Francis de Sales Award – the top honor of the association – in 2017.
A fellow Catholic journalist documenting life in the Philadelphia Archdiocese for more than 20 years through photographs for the CS&T and Catholic Philly, Sarah Webb often drove Mr. Baldwin to their assignments together.
He was “one the most impressive men I’ve ever met. He was smart, witty, down to earth and most of all an amazing husband,” she said, adding that “hearing him talk to his wife made you understand what true love is.”
“When I saw Lou last,” she said, “his memory was already fading. When I was leaving he said, ‘I guess I’ll see you the next time we get a call for a job.’ I’m certain that he is up in heaven waiting for me to arrive to cover our next job.”
A longtime member of the American Catholic Historical Society’s Board of Directors, Mr. Baldwin is recalled as “a tremendously gifted writer,” said the society’s Thomas Rzeznik. “A lover of history, his reporting helped educate us all about the heritage we share while capturing the ongoing story of Catholic Philadelphia.
“He could always be counted on to recall parish anniversaries and other milestones and knew how to bring history to life. His biography of Mother Katharine Drexel stands out as one of his greatest works, revealing the remarkable story of a saintly life in ways that speaks to both her humanity and her holiness.”
In his 2002 piece, Mr. Baldwin said of St. Katharine, “I love her dearly, as I do her entire family.”
In his 1988 book on the saint, which he dedicated to Cardinal Krol, Mr. Baldwin dedicated the portion of the book that deals with St. Katharine’s family life to his “own loving wife Rita and our children.”
He is survived by her and children Irene, Ellen Cohen, David, Mary Hagan, Kathy, Anne Malone, Peggy Solitario, Stephen and Betsy, as well as by 17 grandchildren three great-grandchildren and his sister Kathleen Frank.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament at www.katharinedrexel.org or 215-470-9776.
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