Chosen by Cardinal Joseph Ritter of St. Louis as a "conclavist" in 1963, Msgr. Joseph Baker saw up close the historic papal election of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who took the name Pope Paul VI.Pope John XXIII had died three weeks earlier and Cardinal Ritter and then-Father Baker, chosen to be his assistant, were soon on their way to the Vatican for the conclave and the selection of the next pope. Msgr. Baker had been a graduate student in Rome when Pope John XXIII was elected in 1958, so he was somewhat more familiar with the proceedings than most people.One memory he has was the voting in the Sistine Chapel, with the cardinals walking up to the altar where there was a large chalice. Each held his ballot over the chalice, before dropping it inside, stating aloud in Latin that he was voting before God for the person most appropriate to lead the Catholic Church."They take the responsibility seriously," Msgr. Baker said. "They have different ideas, of course, about who would do the best job for the church, but it's their responsibility to vote for the person who they in conscience believe would be the best to lead the church. ... They're there to do the work of the church."Looking just at the popes the last century, he said, "I can't think of one who wasn't a very appropriate person to lead the church."In 1963, he said, each cardinal was permitted to have one assistant with him. That priest-assistant could not be a prelate — a monsignor. Msgr. Baker earlier was given a choice to be on the new list of monsignors or to be the one to accompany Cardinal Ritter to Rome in case of a papal conclave."That's no choice," Msgr. Baker said, noting that he preferred to go to Rome.Now a retired parish pastor who held a number of positions in the St. Louis Archdiocese, Msgr. Baker noted that the cardinals and conclavists lived in the Vatican, which was "locked up completely from the world. There was no telephoning, no radio, no communication with the outside world whatsoever. They were doing the work of the church, and nothing was going to interfere with that."The conclave was "beautifully run," he told the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper. "I'm satisfied that they (the cardinal electors) all still take their work seriously."In 1963, Cardinal Ritter was one of five U.S. prelates to be part of the conclave that elected Pope Paul VI. Only three U.S. cardinals took part in the election of Pope John XXIII in 1958. Prior to 1978, only 11 U.S. cardinals had ever participated in the conclaves that have elected popes.In 1978, Cardinal John Carberry became the second St. Louis prelate to participate in a papal election. He was accompanied by his secretary, Father John Gaydos, now the bishop of Jefferson City, Mo., for the election of Pope John Paul I and then, less than two months later, of Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul I died less than a month after being installed.Bishop Gaydos noted that procedures were rewritten by then, and conclavists were not allowed inside with the cardinals, unless one of them had a physical disability.Most impressive was the thousands of media present at the Vatican, assembling days before the conclave began, he said. A couple cardinals would take turns addressing the media in the days before the conclave began.Cardinal Carberry gave a standard answer during the first conclave that he didn't expect anyone other than an Italian to be elected. At the second conclave, Bishop Gaydos recalled, Cardinal Carberry fielded the same question and said, "I always thought it would be an Italian, but now you never know."Of course, a cardinal from Poland ended up being chosen as the next pope.Cardinal Carberry never spoke about what occurred in the conclave, Bishop Gaydos added.It was amazing to see "how the Holy Spirit works in such a beautiful way," the bishop said. "I don't know who we're going to get next, but it will be wonderful.""I got to see parts of church history and events that are rare and magnificent to see," Msgr. Baker said. "I know I didn't deserve this, God was just good to me. It was a wonderful time."—CNS{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0315/processide/{/gallery}