ASK FATHER: Can’t get real baptism certificate! Wedding in six weeks!

From a reader…

I was born in a town in the Jefferson City Archdiocese twenty-four years ago. However upon birth, I was helicoptered to Children’s hospital in the st. louis Archdiocese, due to complications.

When I arrived at Children’s, I was baptized by someone at the hospital. My only records are my parent’s memory, and a letter & card from the Hospital chaplain (who I think was a methodist, based off of the research I did) saying I was baptized by him “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” on the day of my birth. I tried contacting the hospital AND the Archdiocese, with no results thus far.

However, things get messier. Apparently after my health issues were resolved, I was taken by my parents to Corpus Christi Tx, where I was “baptized” at a parish there before my mother’s family (she was Catholic, one of 8 kids). When I later received my first communion and confirmation at my home parish in my home diocese of Jefferson City, my parish used the baptismal certificate from the parish in Corpus Christi. I only found out about all of this just now… It seems that my parents may have hidden my actual baptism so that I could be “baptized properly” with “friends and family” in Corpus Christi…

As such, I’m having difficulties tracking down the actual baptismal records from Children’s hospital in St. Louis, and am in a mess over this. We are six weeks away from our wedding, and need to have our home parish send the records to our diocese, so that they can be forwarded on to the St. Louis Diocese where we are to be married (we found priests for a Solemn High EF there).

How should I go about rectifying this? My home parish has always sent records of confirmation to the church in Corpus, but that was not my ‘actual’ baptism???

Sometimes things get messy.

What should have happened in Corpus Christi used to be called “Supplying the Ceremonies” which now goes by the more precise but far less melodious title of “The Rite of Bringing a Baptized Child to the Church.” With this Rite, the Church receives children who were baptized in emergency situations. It does not “rebaptize” but simply adds those elements that were left out during the emergency baptism. (The older, traditional Rite is far richer, in my opinion.) This is also the Rite to be used when a child under the age of 7 who was baptized in a non-Catholic Church becomes Catholic (usually when his parents convert, or return to the practice of the faith after a time away). It can be found in the ritual book for the baptism of children.

For weal or for woe, your baptismal record is at the parish in Corpus Christi. That baptismal certificate, though historically inaccurate, contains the essential facts that are needed to marry: you are a baptized, confirmed Catholic who has never been married before.

Don’t fret that it doesn’t mention your earlier, true baptism. What was done was done.

If at some point in the future you are able to get it sorted out and you can get a statement from the Children’s Hospital that you were baptized (or you could get sworn affidavits from your parents who were present at the baptism), you could then get the record corrected in Corpus Christi so that it reflects what really happened.
For now, with your wedding coming up, a certificate from Corpus Christi will suffice.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    When my eldest was baptized in hospital, what he had when family could arrive was called “Finishing Rites”. Sounded a bit like “finishing school”.

    Is it possible that there was some doubt as to whether the baptism was valid, and so the child was conditionally baptized?

  2. Mary Jane says:

    I had a bad records mixup prior to my wedding too, but it was with my Confirmation certificate. (I know Confirmation is not required for the Sacrament of Matrimony, but my FSSP parish priest wanted to make sure I the mixup sorted out prior to the wedding – always best to have as many sacramental graces as possible, right? :). I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty details for a number of different reasons, but even though at the time it was a stressful situation in the end everything worked out and our wedding was beautiful (High EF, and my husband composed the 5-part mass setting that the choir sung. :)

    Don’t let the paperwork mixup worry you; Father Z said the certificate from Corpus Christi will suffice. Your wedding day will be here before you know it! Congratulations!

  3. Suudy says:

    When I converted, my father was unsure if I was baptized by my mother when I was a child. My parents divorced when I was 2 years old, and I was raised by my father. I had no contact with my mother until I was in my 30’s. When I was in high school, I was part of an evangelical church and did the full immersion baptism.

    During RCIA, our priest wasn’t even worried about whether I was baptized as an infant or as a teenager. It was clear that I was baptized, and he accepted the baptism certificate from the evangelical church. When I reconnected with my mother eventually, I found out I was in fact baptized by a Navy Chaplain shortly after my birth.

  4. Matt Robare says:

    Sounds like “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Better make sure a three volume novel wasn’t baptized by mistake.

  5. Father:

    The baptismal certificate you used to illustrate this article is beautiful. By any chance, do you know if such things are still printed; and if so, would you be so kind as to tell me where I might inquire about them?

  6. Simon_GNR says:

    When I was received into the Church in 1987 I was never asked for a baptism certificate or any evidence that I had been baptised. The parish just believed me when I said that I had been: they took it on trust. I knew from my parents that I had been validly baptised acording to the rite of the Church of England as per the Book of Common Prayer.
    Should the parish that received me into the Chuch have got some documentary evidence from me that I had been baptised?

  7. Fr. Erik Richtsteig says:

    If worse comes to worst, ask for a conditional baptism.

  8. Wiktor says:

    Speaking of emergency baptism, I think every Catholic faithful should know what is the proper formula for baptism (and when he can use it). I have memorized the formula in Latin, including conditional variants.

  9. Deirdre Mundy says:

    We have recent experience with this– I baptized my very sick daughter right before they put her on the helicopter. So, we had no real record of it, but she was legitimately baptized. (Before you worry, she miraculously got better a few months later on Holy Thursday, but at the point of helicoptering, it was touch and go.)

    So, we explained the situation to Fr. and schedules a completion of the ritual. But he also conditionally baptized her at the same time, just in case I’d screwed up at the hospital. (I hadn’t, but since I had no witnesses he felt it was best to conditionally baptize her, just to make sure all i’s were dotted and t’s crossed. )

    So her baptismal certificate is from our parish. Her Godparents were present for the completion of the ritual, the certificate lists that as her baptismal date. (Though may have a note about her hospital baptism– I need to look at it again.)

    So, even if the OP’s parents told the priest about the baptism, he probably would have done a conditional baptism because with something as important as this sacrament, it’s better to be safe than sorry! However, many people misinterpret a conditional baptism as a ‘fake’ one.

    Anyway, rejoice! You have parents who loved you enough to baptize you when you were in danger of death, and who loved you enough to make sure that they recorded everything properly in the parish!

  10. eulogos says:

    What do I do if the parish where my son was baptized does not have a record of it?

    A friend of the family priest came and baptized my child at the church of the parish I was then attending. (He used the EF version in English, which was probably highly illegitimate in 1985, but it was great, salt and all.) Afterwards, he started to walk up to the rectory to ask to do the paperwork, but no one answered his knock, and he said, “Oh, well, I will just register it when I get back to St.-, which was where he was stationed at the time and which was the parish where I had become a Catholic.” I didn’t think anything of it at the time. A few years ago, when I was trying to get a birth certificate for this child, who was born at home and never had his birth registered, I wrote to both parishes requesting his birth certificate, but neither one has it. The priest is deceased. I do have witnesses who were at the baptism.

    I was eventually able to get the delayed birth certificate with testimony from the doctor who examined him after birth and from neighbors who visited me while I was still in bed with the infant, as well as with school records. If you have a baby at home, take my advice and don’t delay getting a birth certificate. I got them for my other kids, with the help of my city councelperson, but she was ill when this child was born, and then we had a house fire and moved when the child was 3 months old. It took years and getting public officials to help me to obtain the delayed birth certificate, and even then, it wasn’t accepted for a passport without further documents and notarized affadavits from us as parents.

    But I still don’t have a baptismal certificate. Right now, sadly, this son does not practice the faith. But if he should ever want to get married in the church, there would be a problem. Is there anything I can do about this?

  11. AnAmericanMother says:

    Fear not! There’s something about weddings that makes everybody hyperventilate.
    When my daughter married, she had already moved to a new job in another state. Her local bishop had a very convoluted procedure – our parish had to send HER parish all her records (baptism in the Episcopal church, Catholic confirmation, etc.) 60 days beforehand, and they sent them on with the certification of their pre-Cana counseling to the chancery, which was supposed to send it back to our parish. Her hubby is a Marine brat, so tracking down his stuff was highly entertaining, but we did it.
    Naturally the chancery lost EVERYTHING, and didn’t confess the Awful Truth until two days before the wedding (effectively 1 business day since wedding was on a Saturday.)
    But our priest used to be a lawyer before he ‘saw the light’ and the two of us had reminded daughter to keep copies of everything, which she did being very methodical like her scientist dad. We proceeded on “substitute/conformed original” legal theory.
    Documents did arrive via FedEx at 10 am Saturday delivery, but nobody was in a panic. Only thing we worried about was the music, which was elaborate but went off without a hitch.
    So Don’t Panic! It will be all right.

  12. Rachel K says:

    Firstly, congratulations to the reader for their upcoming marriage! And how great to have a solemn high Mass for the ceremony. I pray it all goes smoothly.
    Suudy, thankyou for sharing a little of how the difficult circumstances of your early life were resolved later for you. I felt heartened at your account of how God’s Grace has worked in your life.

  13. Imrahil says:

    Dear Wiktor,


    He also should in my opinion, if anyhow possible, immediately after an emergency baptism, tear out a parcel of paper from somewhere, and write down that he performed this baptism using the valid formula, adding his signature.

  14. bookworm says:

    Years ago, when I was working for the Diocese of Peoria newspaper, I wrote a story concerning a Catholic couple that had given birth to sextuplets (5 survived, 1 died). The babies had all received emergency baptism right after their birth in the hospital, but about 10 months later, the remaining 5 babies had the remainder of the rite performed in their parents’ original home parish — by then-Bishop John Myers, who was a friend of the mother’s family. Basically, they did everything that is normally performed at a regular baptism minus the actual baptism — the presentation of the candle and white garment, the godparents’ promises, etc. — and it was very inspiring. The Bishop explained to everyone present (both the mom and the dad had quite a few relatives and friends in attendance) what was going on and that it used to be known as “supplying the ceremonies” of baptism. So yes, this is still done. By the way, these kids would now be just turning 18 if my math is correct….

    Also, my husband was baptized at a parish in Peoria but received first Communion and confirmation from a chaplain aboard a Navy ship during the first Gulf War. We didn’t have any problems tracking down those records when we got married, however, because the Military Archdiocese apparently had them transmitted to the parish where he was baptized.

    Which reminds me… my daughter was baptized in one parish, received first Communion in another parish, and was confirmed in a third parish. Two different dioceses are involved. I presume that the latter two events were transmitted to and recorded at the parish in which she was baptized, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to check with them sometime, just in case she needs that documentation in the future.

  15. bookworm says:

    Also, in one of my parents’ scrapbooks is the First Communion certificate that my paternal grandfather recieved in 1906 from the German-speaking parish to which he belonged. (He would have been 12 or 13 years old at the time; apparently, the earlier First Communion practice instituted by Pope St. Pius X hadn’t yet taken hold there.) It looks very much like the baptismal certificate pictured above (fancy calligraphy, beautiful religious art, everything written in German).

  16. Eulogos:

    If there are people alive who can attest that a proper baptism occurred, there’s no problem. Get in touch with a priest nearby, and I’m sure you can get it recorded with affidavits or something like that.

    I’ve never handled a situation like that, but if someone came to me, I’d call downtown, and someone there would know. After 2,000 years, we have a procedure to handle everything.

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