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Baggot, Joseph

Andover, MA - July 18, 2003
Joseph P. Baggot, 78, died Monday at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen.

He was a Maryknoll priest for 17 years in the missions in East Africa and supervisor of clinical pastoral education at Boston City Hospital.

Born in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., He received his doctorate in divinity from the Andover Newton Theological School.

Mr. Baggot served as a radioman in the Navy during World War II, receiving the Victory Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign Medal and the American Area Campaign Medal.

He was a member of St. Joseph's Church, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, all in Andover, and volunteered at the Andover Senior Center.

He leaves his wife of 27 years Gail P. (O'Neil) Baggot; sister Mary Kutzke of Wisconsin Dells; and several nieces and nephews.

When Joseph P Baggot first arrived in East Africa as a Maryknoll missionary in 1956, he caught malaria.

The disease never left him during the 17 years he was in East Africa nor did the memories of the places and people he administered to and, years later, wrote about lovingly in a creative writing class at the Andover Senior Center.

Dr. Baggot died Monday at Caritas Holy Family Hospital in Methuen following a stroke. The Andover resident was 78 and had left the religious Iife more than a quarter century ago.

"Joe felt the work of the missionary was to help people help themselves and then, to push on," Gail P. (ONeil), his wife of 27 years, said yesterday.

"Joe was a simple man," she said, "with a great sense of humor and a deep faith, not the kind of faith that would judge others.”

Dr Baggot lived by his beliefs. While in East Africa, he learned the Swahili language and translated the Bible into it. He taught the community how to organize and develop at a grassroots level.

He lived In a grass-roofed mud hut in the little town of Musoma in what was then the British territory of Tanganyika, which, after independence,became Tanzania.

In the nearby village of Mugango,, with funds contributed by friends in the States, he built a a one-room school house, still used today. His outreach included rural clinics, government hospitals, prisons, and home visits to patients and the elderly.

During his years in East Africa, Dr. Baggot met some memorable people, converting many to Christianity. He wrote about one, an elderly woman named Teresa Nyanswi, a member of the Kuria tribe, whom he met at the Nyegina Mission.

In 1998, Dr. Baggot wrote: “She could hold your attention even if you thought you had some other place that needed your presence. She hung in until her business was over. That was usually to assure herself of her goal (receiving) the sacrament of baptism.”

One problem, Dr. Baggot wrote, was that Nyanswi had not passed the language test for baptism and another priest flunked her. "Suddenly, Nyanswi became deathly ill”, he wrote.

"Some who saw her said she turned very pasty and green. Of course, the priest teacher who had cut her from his class rushed to her side and baptized her immediately. The next morning, Teresa was on the road, staff in hand, rosary around her neck, snuff bottle at her waist, setting off on foot for her Kuria homeland, 75 miles away.”

Dr. Baggot’s idyllic Wisconsin childhood might not have presaged his calling as a missionary. He was born in 1925 in Wisconsin Dells, a farming and resort town on the Wisconsin River,

As a young man, Dr. Baggot piloted and served as a guide on river boats full tourists. He was an outstanding high school athlete in track and pole vault, and active In the school theater group, its choir and band as a cornet player.

He Joined the Navy during World War II and served as a radioman in the Pacific. From 1946 to 1949,, under the G1 Bill, Dr. Baggot was a pre-med student at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, but left to become a Missionary.

*His decision, he wrote later, was driven “by a young person’s willingness to try to be the best, and, in my mind, I decided the ministry would be the better choice. He graduated from Maryknoll College in Glynn Ellyn,Ill, in 1951 and from the Maryknoll Seminary in Maryknoll, N.Y., in 1956, when he was sent to East Africa.

On his return, Dr. Baggot was supervisor of clinical pastoral education at Boston City Hospital where Gail O'Neil, a nun, Also worked in the program. Dt Baggot retired from the Maryknoll order in 1976, the year they were married.

That same year, he earned his doctorate of ministry degree, focusing on psychology and clinical studies, from Andover Newton Theological School In Newton Centre, MA. His thesis was, "God, Fatherhood, and the Catholic Priesthood.”

Dr. Baggot's work history was a long one. He worked for the state Department of Mental Health, the Human Resources Institute of Boston, and as director of social services at nursing homes in the Lawrence and Methuen area. He kept his connection with East Africa alive by promoting fund-raising drives to build schools and transportation facilities there.

When Dr. Baggot retired at 65, he went to work inspecting Polartec cloth at Malden Mills in Lawrence for the next five years.

After his second retirement, he volunteered at the senior citizen drop-in center in Andover, MA and took courses at the center In creative writing and cooking.

Besides his wife, a teacher at the Academy of Notre Dame in Tyngsborough, MA, Dr. Baggot leaves a sister, Mary Kutzke of Wisconsin Dells, and several nieces and nephews.