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Doing God's work three jobs at a time

Monsignor takes over as pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in addition to other duties.

September 05, 2006|By Alicia Robinson

BALBOA PENINSULA — A workday that begins before 8 a.m. and ends about 9 p.m. Counseling the dying and the sick, and listening to people's problems. Trying to get warm bodies into church pews every week.

It's a tough job, but Msgr. Lawrence Baird is undaunted. With 37 years of experience in the priesthood, Baird in July took over as head pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Balboa Boulevard. That's in addition to his duties as administrator of St. John Vianney Chapel on Balboa Island, and a position as vicar for development with the Diocese of Orange.

"I'm charged with constantly pointing out to people the spiritual dimension of our lives," Baird said.

When he is officially installed as pastor Oct. 22, Baird will be the spiritual head of two of Newport Beach's oldest churches.

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St. John Vianney, where Baird, 64, has been the administrator for nine years, was founded in 1941 — some years after Our Lady of Mount Carmel's establishment in 1924.

The church doesn't have a full-time pastor on site, but Baird is the first pastor serving the church to live on Balboa Island. He gets up most mornings about 6:30 a.m. to give the 7:45 a.m. Mass at St. John Vianney and then meet with parishioners after the service.

He'll read the local papers to keep up with the news in his diocese, then he travels the four miles to Our Lady of Mount Carmel to handle whatever the day throws at him. On Tuesday, for example, his schedule included a meeting about the church computer system, then an appointment with a man having problems with his son, administrative work, and a meeting with a couple planning to get married.

People also drop in at the church throughout the day because it's on the main drag through Balboa.

Baird said he hopes to set a positive example and encourage his parishioners in their faith, and the two main challenges to that are the secularization and impersonalization of American culture.

To combat that, Baird has to remind members of his churches that they are a family and get them to think about their religious development.

"A reason for us gathering together on Sunday is we are not simply individuals in a vacuum," he said. "We come together to worship God as a family. We don't do that by watching Mass on television."

Parishioners already have noticed the church's new leadership.

John Schnieders, who has attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel for 26 years, said the church needed a head pastor. While he doesn't know Baird well yet, Schnieders said the monsignor has been friendly and communicative with parishioners so far.

"We had a ship without a rudder," Schnieders said. "He'll be a great credit to the church."

One of Baird's goals is to encourage more parents to enroll their children in religious education. That's what inspired him to become a priest, he said — the example of the priests he knew growing up in Ontario, Canada.

As the spiritual advisor to about 400 families at St. John Vianney and 1,300 families at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Baird is a busy man. But he finds his job fulfilling.

"I couldn't think of doing anything else," he said. "I've really been very happy. My big frustration is there aren't enough hours in the day."

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