PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — Louis “Lou” Baldwin, a Catholic journalist and a gentleman known by generations of Philadelphia Catholics for his bylines for 35 years, died Oct. 18 in Philadelphia. He was 86.
Baldwin, a native of Philadelphia with an encyclopedic knowledge of the city, was a longtime staff writer for The Catholic Standard & Times, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. His funeral Mass was to be celebrated Oct. 23 at St. Christopher Church in Philadelphia.
Born in West Philadelphia, he was orphaned as a boy during the Great Depression and was sent to the former St. Francis Vocational School in Eddington near Philadelphia in 1947 — which began a connection he would share with St. Katharine Drexel, the heir to the Drexel family fortune who left a life of privilege to found the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
The saint’s family founded the orphanage, and Baldwin formed a lifelong love for St. Katharine and her sisters. He was the author of two biographies of her that helped to spread devotion to her ahead of her canonization in 2000.
While living at the orphanage, Baldwin attended St. Bernard School and Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia. After graduating in 1952, he joined the U.S. Army and served as a cryptographer during the Korean War.
When he returned home, Baldwin attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he met Rita Crawford. The two married and raised nine children in their 61 years of marriage.
Baldwin worked as a stockbroker on the Philadelphia exchange and as an accountant and a librarian. He also found part-time work at night selling appliances at Sears.
He became known for a trait that he made a lifelong habit — being a walker.
Following a night shift in South Philadelphia or a meeting of his Knights of Columbus council there, Baldwin would often to walk the 11-mile journey back to his home in Northeast Philadelphia.
When St. Francis faced closure in 1984, Baldwin sent a reflection on the orphanage and the sisters who founded it to The Catholic Standard & Times.
The paper’s managing editor at the time, 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 Baldwin getting a position as staff writer with the paper in 1986 where he wrote some half-dozen stories a week, at least, until 2004, when he retired from full-time work.
In 1988, he wrote a biography of Mother Katharine as a supplement to the newspaper, that was later published as a book, called: “A Call to Sanctity: The Formation and Life of Mother Katharine Drexel.” He wrote a second biography, “Saint Katharine Drexel: Apostle to the Oppressed” in 2000.
Helping to edit the second book was Elena Perri, copy editor for the Philadelphia archdiocesan newspaper 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 Baldwin dispensed retirement planning advice to her on a cocktail napkin. “And I still have it,” she said.
During many of Baldwin’s years at the newspaper, his managing editor was Joseph Ryan, who found it interesting that the writer died on the feast day of St. Luke because 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,” he said.
Ryan added: “Lou was a Catholic gentleman through and through. I will miss his wisdom, mischievous humor and friendship.”
Joining Baldwin as staff writer at the paper in 1992 was Christie Chicoine who remembers Baldwin 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.”
“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 Baldwin covered stories across the Philadelphia Archdiocese, even though he never drove a car, and either walked or took public transportation.
His penchant for traveling by foot led him to meet the people he found along the way. He also spent 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 Catholic Standard & Times in 1995.
In a reflection he wrote when he retired from full-time writing in 2004, Baldwin cited some of the countless people he had interviewed from Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey to opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and numerous cardinals, bishops, priests and lay Catholics in between.
He wrote about pro-life issues, treatment of immigrants, the Cambodian killing fields, welfare reform, mushroom farm workers and the Appalachian Trail, which he once hiked.
His reflection also mentioned the numerous biographies of Philadelphia bishops he wrote for the newspaper.
“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, 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 for Baldwin. In 2007, he returned to reporting for the newspaper as a freelance writer, producing the same volume of weekly stories until 2012.
That year, The Catholic Standard & Times ceased publishing, and Baldwin continued to write 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 Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez, in a Catholic Philly print supplement.
His last piece for Catholic Philly, a story about St. Frances Cabrini, ran in January 2021.
Baldwin received the National Peace and Justice Award by the Blessed Sacrament Sisters in 2013, numerous awards for writing by the Catholic Press Association, now called the Catholic Media Association, and a nomination for the St. Francis de Sales Award — the top honor of the association — in 2017.
He is survived by his wife, Rita, and their nine children, 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and by his sister Kathleen Frank.
– – –
Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.