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Meet Father Ted Baenziger, CSB

Everyone in the Basilian, college and parish communities have been so generous with me. I can’t remember a time they’ve said, ‘no you can’t do that’. Perhaps they’ve said maybe not right now.

When Father Ted Baenziger, CSB answered the call to join the Basilians he thought he was saying yes to a life of teaching in the classroom. Accepting a transformative appointment to teach English in France changed all that he thought he knew about Basilian life.

Ted grew up in Detroit, Michigan as the oldest of four children to Edward James Baenziger and Margaret Pettit. As a child he remembers lots of time for playing with his friends in the streets and as practicing Catholics, his family made time to attend Mass every Sunday. He also attended the local Catholic school and credits his excellent teachers with his ability to read at a high-level and earn good grades.

His good grades ensured acceptance into the Basilian-run and reputable Catholic Central High School. As a curious student he was interested in a range of subjects. He was also interested in the people who staffed the school. At the time there were 20 teacher priests and about six scholastics. “I was particularly impressed with the teaching of the Basilian scholastics as they were intelligent and full of energy,” he said. While he was not involved in the school’s sports culture, he joined the chess club and attended Mass held once a week in the Basilian residence on campus.

His curiosity led him to consider a range of careers from scientist to explorer. In his junior year, his father wanted him to focus and start planning for his future. He had his son sit in his room until he decided what he would do after he graduated high school. A sixteen-year-old Ted considered his many passions and interests and he also thought about his educators’ careers.

“There way of life seemed interesting and I was attracted to both the teaching and pastoral aspects of their work,” he said.

He decided he would join the Basilians. When he told his mentor, Father Richard Elmer, CSB of his decision, Father Elmer advised him to travel because as he put it, “when you’re a Basilian, you will stay in one spot and teach.”

Not to be discouraged, Ted entered the Pontiac novitiate in Michigan right after high school. It was a large novitiate class of 34 of which 17 would go on to profess their first vows at the end of the year. “I was the only one who was eventually ordained, and I find it ironic because I wasn’t the most holy or most qualified of the group,” he said.

He professed his first vows in 1965 and went on to earn his Bachelor of Arts from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York and then taught for two years at Aquinas Institute also in Rochester, New York. He studied theology at St. Basil’s College in Toronto, Ontario and his love of learning continued to grow particularly for scripture studies. “My love of the scripture has stayed with me,” he said.

Assuming he would go into teaching, he requested to do some pastoral work during his deaconate year and was sent to Assumption Parish in Lethbridge, Alberta for a couple of months. He also spent time in campus ministry at St. John Fisher College. He was ordained a priest on May 1, 1976 at St. Scholastica’s Church in Detroit, Michigan. He spent the next two years teaching at Andrean High School in Gary, Indiana. “It was different from anything I had done before and it was a hard adjustment,” he said.

After this appointment he was pushed further into uncharted territory when he accepted an appointment to move to France to teach English at the Collège Privé du Sacré-Coeur. He was hesitant as he didn’t speak French and didn’t particularly enjoy learning French in high school. “When I got to France I couldn’t speak the language well and I learned by listening to those around me. I was like a child again who was learning how to speak for the first time. To be a child at the age of 32 changed my attitude as I discovered I didn’t know anything,” he said.

During his five years in France, he discovered he had a talent for teaching French and the appointment has had a great effect on his priestly ministry. “Ultimately, I ended up falling in love with the country, people, customs, and wine,” he said. He’s returned to the country 34 times, gained many friends and earned his doctorate from L’Universite de Paris.

Back in the United States, he helped establish St.-Basiile, a French-speaking parish in Houston, Texas, with Father James Farge, CSB and Father Bill Young, CSB. Initially, he was asked to celebrate Mass occasionally, but it has become his full-time job. In addition to his parish work, he has also served as a professor and campus minister at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. Basilian life continues to foster his love of learning and the Eucharist.

Recently, he was overcome with emotion as he prepared catechists for their first communion. “Suddenly, I had the realization about the overwhelming presence of Jesus in my own life and I was so excited for these children to experience Jesus in their lives as well,” he said.

As a Basilian, he has nurtured a passion for growing orchids. He’s grown award-winning orchids in his greenhouse and appointed a judge for the American Orchid Society. His interest has taken him to world conferences in South Africa and Singapore.

“Everyone in the Basilian, college and parish communities have been so generous with me. I can’t remember a time they’ve said, ‘no you can’t do that’. Perhaps they’ve said maybe not right now,” he said.

Even in retirement, Basilian life continues to include a wide range of activities. He remains involved with the French-speaking parish, teaches genetics at the University of St. Thomas on a volunteer basis and celebrates Mass everyday at the house he shares with his Basilian confrères.

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Portrait of Father Ted Baenziger