The influence of Fr. Henry was the seed of Gus’s Salesian vocation. After high school he completed mandatory military training, then emigrated to the U.S., as did most of his family. From there he wrote to Fr. Henry asking advice on what to do as he wanted to become a priest. Fr. Henry referred him to the Salesians’ vocation director. That was enough for Fr. Gus always to consider Fr. Henry as the source of his Salesian vocation and his vocational “father,” although he had many spiritual directors and “fathers” after that.
On August 29, 1984, he entered the Son of Mary program at Don Bosco College Seminary in Newton, N.J., where he was guided in two years of vocational discernment by Fr. Tom Ruekert. He was admitted to St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Newton on August 24, 1986, and a year later made his first profession as a Salesian (August 25, 1987). The novitiate year began with 11 novices directed by Fr. John Grinsell in his first year as master. Fr. Gus is the only one of the 11 who remained a Salesian. He completed a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Don Bosco College in May 1989.
Bro. Gus did two years of practical training (1989-1991), one as a teacher at Archbishop Shaw High School in Marrero, La., and one as a teacher and Boys Club staff member at St. Dominic Savio High School in East Boston. Theological studies followed at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio (1991-1995), where he earned an M.A. cum laude in biblical studies. He made his perpetual profession on August 21, 1993, at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw, N.Y., and was ordained in Columbus, Ohio, on May 28, 1995.
Fr. Gus became an American citizen in 1988.
Fr. Gus’s first priestly assignment was to the Salesian Boys & Girls Club in East Boston as assistant executive director (1995-1997). He was sent next to Corpus Christi Parish in Port Chester, N.Y. (1997-1999) as assistant pastor and youth minister. Then came five years in the formation community at Orange, N.J. (1999-2004), which included a year as youth minister at St. Andrew Kim Parish in Maplewood, N.J., two years as the Salesian community’s treasurer and two as youth minister at Our Lady of the Valley Church in Orange, and four years as an adjunct professor of theology at Caldwell College (Caldwell, N.J.).
In 2004 Fr. Gus founded the Reborn Young Christ (RYC) Center for Korean youth ministry in Stony Point, N.J., which he coordinated for 15 years. During that period he traveled extensively in service to Korean-American youths, helped bring Salesians from Korea to minister to youths in both the New York area and the Tampa Bay area. His director for five of those 15 years, Fr. John Puntino, writes: “[Fr.] Gus was always so gracious and conscientious regarding community and Shrine affairs. I observed how revered he was in the Korean community and how pastoral he was especially in caring for young adults.”
In 2019 the Salesians called upon Fr. Gus to assume leadership at Salesian Missions in New Rochelle, succeeding Fr. Mark Hyde. He began with energy, making several overseas trips as required by the job. The Covid pandemic slowed that down, and then came his diagnosis with stomach cancer. He carried on as best he could, even traveling in the New York area to make mission appeals as late as August 2022.
Fr. Gus’s administrative assistant, Joann Oliva, said: “I could only add that he was a pleasure to work for and with and to be around, always had a smile on his face. He loved the mission office, and he did so much for all the missionaries. He will truly be missed.”
During his two years facing his illness, Fr. Gus sometimes got discouraged but at other times was upbeat and hopeful. He acknowledged his pain and the difficulty of having fluid build-up drained from his abdomen, but he didn’t really complain. He was always ready for whatever God was asking of him.
Fr. Gus is survived by his Salesian brothers and sisters and by his blood sisters Monica Cho of Fairfax, Va.; Soon Ja Baek (Maria) of Seoul, South Korea; and Hyung Hee Baek (Justina) in Seoul; and his brother Hyung Jo Baek (Francis) of Seoul. Another sister, Julia, died recently in Korea.
Funeral arrangements, pending, are being handled by John J. Fox Funeral Home of Larchmont, N.Y.
by Fr. Mike Mendl, SDB