Blessed with success in his life, St. John the Beloved parishioner still felt that something was missing
WILMINGTON — In a few months, Charles Baldwin and his wife, Salvatorica, will return to the Italian island of Sardinia, where they were married 42 years ago and spend about half the year. They will head back to the church in the mountain village where they were married, and this summer will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the priest who presided that day.
For the first time, however, Charles Baldwin will do all of that as a Catholic. Baldwin, 65, is joining the church this year at the family’s Wilmington parish, St. John the Beloved.
“I’ve really been attending the Catholic Church since 1974. However, that’s all I was doing, was attending,” said Baldwin, a Navy veteran and retired educator.
“I’ve been blessed with a lot of success in my life, but there was something missing.”
He had wanted to attend Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes in the past, but something always seemed to stand in the way. Last fall, the timing was right, and Baldwin — whose wife, children and grandchildren are all Catholic — will receive his first Communion and confirmation at the Easter Vigil on March 26. (He had been baptized as a condition of getting married in a Catholic church.)
Although he’s been attending Mass for more than 40 years, Baldwin said he has learned something each week at his RCIA classes.
“I’ve seen all the sacraments and the rituals and the rites but never understood the foundation for those,” he said. “I think the most significant one is, I don’t think I understood the ordination of the priests and how they came down from the apostles – that whole piece, understanding why are they the ones who can forgive sins or why are they this? So that’s been made very clear. I think that was very eye-opening for me and very reassuring. It put everything into perspective.”
He also said the concept of forgiveness piqued his interest. He said he found himself not being very forgiving and not understanding how people could do that. In addition, Communion is something completely different in Catholicism than it is in the Methodist faith in which he was raised, he said.
Baldwin grew up in Chicago and fought in three wars as a member of the Navy. One of those conflicts was Vietnam, and after returning from Southeast Asia he was assigned to Sardinia, where he met his wife. The Navy eventually asked him to consider transferring to the base in Philadelphia, where he had had a good experience many years earlier.
The family – which includes a son and daughter – settled in Delaware, and they decided to stay after his active military career ended. The Navy asked Baldwin if he would consider opening a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) in the state.
“I’ve always had a knack for connecting with young people. I opened an ROTC in Seaford. Then I opened one at Christiana High School,” he said.
Baldwin noticed that the only military schools in the area were private and out of reach financially for most students who were in the JROTC programs he started. So he set out to establish a military-based charter school, and 13 years ago, Delaware Military Academy opened its doors, with Baldwin as its first commandant. The school has been a great success.
In the ensuing years, Delaware Sen. Tom Carper asked Baldwin if he could help establish a similar school in lower Delaware. With Baldwin’s assistance, First State Military Academy opened last fall and will eventually serve 500 students. FSMA is located on the former site of St. Joseph School in Clayton.
Baldwin also spent two years as president of Charter School of Wilmington.
He likes being around young people, including at St. John the Beloved.
“One of the things I enjoy about the RCIA is that there are several youngsters in there, and I get to be around them and listen to their questions. They’re helping to educate me just as much as the deacon is and everyone else,” he said. “I have nothing but good things to say about the whole RCIA experience.
“Of course, it’s been around for 2,000 years, so you guys have got it down pat.”
It’s a good year for Baldwin to convert. In addition to the celebration for the priest in Sardinia, one of his grandchildren will receive first Communion this year.
Baldwin said he has been to services at the Vatican more than 100 times, and he was there when Pope John Paul I was elected in 1978. He is looking forward to getting involved at St. John the Beloved and in Sardinia. He will do so with a better understanding of what is going on around him.
“This is just something that I thought, ‘I need something more. I need to understand.’ It’s not enough to just say I believe in Jesus Christ and all that and not know why,” he said.
“The void that I had felt is starting to be filled.”