NORWICH--He was a priest that the Greek Orthodox community in southeastern Connecticut knew for such a short time. Yet some say he was a warm as any life-long friend.
Father Matthew Baker, 37, of Danielson, was ordained as a priest only a year ago. He had been the priest at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Norwich since mid-January.
"I think he served maybe three Sundays because of snow, which they had canceled a few Sundays," said Father Dean Panagos of St. Sophia Church in New London.
And it was snow that likely led to his death. On Sunday, after leaving church with his six children, State Police report Baker lost control of his 2002 Dodge Caravan on Route 2 westbound, just past the exit 25 on ramp. It crashed into a center median, causing it to roll over. Baker was ejected, but the six children, between the ages of 12 and 2, were all miraculously fine, at least physically.
"They witnessed something that no one should ever have to witness in their life," said Panagos.
Baker's predecessor at Holy Trinity, Father Paul Pantelis, noted Baker had the pleasure of having four of his sons serve alongside him as alter servers.
"It was a delight, at least to me, and I'm sure to all the parishioners, to be able to look up at the altar and see his four boys," said Pantelis, who recently retired after serving as the priest at Holy Trinity for nearly 18 years.
Baker, who died just one month shy of his 38th birthday, leaves behind his wife, Kate, and their six children.
"He filled in for me last summer, when I was on vacation," recalled Panagos, who called himself a fan of Baker. "When I came back, people were like 'we had this incredible priest that served here!'"
Father Paul had the opportunity to serve with Father Matthew yesterday at liturgy, during which they exchanged the kiss of peace.
"And I remember someone commenting to me last night that, when they saw it, they felt so inspired by the two of us showing that Christian unity at the altar," said Pantelis.
A GoFundMe page, which was created less than 24 hours ago, has raised nearly $200,000 for Baker's kids.
Following Monday night's 7 p.m. prayer service, there will be a wake this coming Friday evening into Saturday morning before Baker's funeral is held in his native Cranston, Rhode Island on Saturday.
There's still no word on what specifically caused the crash, though the weather was snowy and icy at the time. Anyone with any information is asked to call State Police at 848-6500 ext. 5075.