'Baptized' by grandmother?

I am currently a catechumen in RCIA after finally following through on my long held desire to join the Catholic Church. The process has been nothing short of wonderful so far and it has led to many great insights into my family history among many other things.

My background is that my parents (Dad Protestant, Mother Catholic) were not having me baptized as well as my two sisters. Apparently this came mostly under pressure from my late father who had fallen away from faith during that time.

Now during Christmas my wife and I were in Germany to celebrate with family. It was during that time that an aunt (sister of my mother) told me that my deeply devout Catholic grandmother ‘baptized’ me and my sisters in our earliest infancy, secretly on her own the first opportunity she could get a hold of us. My mother did not know about this although she always had joked over the years that my grandmother might have given us kids an emergency baptism. Now my aunt who is still a practicing Catholic when she heard about this confronted my grandmother and told her that from her perspective such a baptism would not be valid if not confirmed by a priest. My grandmother obviously just told her to let her deal with the matter that she saw fit. Now all this happened more than three decades ago and my grandmother passed in 1985, but I have no doubt that my aunt’s story is true and that my grandmother actually really felt a genuine urge in her concern over my sibling’s and my souls to spring into the aforementioned action.

I love this story very much but I am also inclined to agree with my aunt that from a legal perspective the ‘baptism’ of my grandmother was not a valid one.

Any insight on this is much appreciated.

If it was done with water, and it was trinitarian formula, it may have been illicit, but it was valid.

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Thank you. Could you define “illicit”?

I have no doubt my grandmother used in the name of the father the son and the holy spirit. But also for none of the aforementioned is there any proof beyond the word of my aunt.

Illicit means not legal. Valid means that it “works”. I always think of it like speeding on the highway. It is Illicit to drive past the speed limit but it is possible and will “work” to get you where you need to be. Illegal, but valid.

Catholics believe in one baptism but they might conditionally baptize you “just to make sure” as we consider Baptism to be essential to our belief system.


If your grandmother was “deeply devout” she would have known to report the baptism to the parish priest so there would be a record of it.

Interesting. But as I grew up in Germany it would also end up in my tax record as we have a federal religious tax for registered Catholics and Protestants and registering this baptism would have ended on my record in some form and I am also sure my parents would have had to be informed about this. The way my grandmother reacted when being confronted was being very defensive about it (Leave me alone. I did what I think is right!) probably knowing what she did was illicit. This should not diminish her deep devotion from my point of view.

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This is not a rare occurrence.

Ask Grandmother to write a letter about what she did, that MAY be enough.

Your priest will likely give you a “conditional baptism”.

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Baptism can be validly administered by anyone. What your grandmother did was illicit, but still a baptism.

You need to inform the RCIA people about this. Since the only witness is dead, it can’t be canonically proven, so the likely result is that you will be conditionally baptized when you enter the Church. But it would be wrong to perform an unconditional baptism when there is serious reason to believe that the person is already baptized.

I believe the OP stated that his grandmother has passed.

She actually passed but as this Forum is such a great resource I found a pretty good statement on a similar situation. I will definitely ask with my grandmothers parish if there are baptism records for me and my sisters.

“If the baptism were never recorded properly and it was strictly anecdotal family lore that the children were baptized in the bathtub by grandma and grandpa, and grandma and grandpa were no longer around to sign an affidavit of baptism, then the priest would likely conduct a conditional baptism.”

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Here’s the relevant law:

Can. 876 To prove the conferral of baptism, if prejudicial to no one, the declaration of one witness beyond all exception is sufficient or the oath of the one baptized if the person received baptism as an adult.

A conditional baptism will probably need to happen.

When my goddaughter entered the Church, grandma who did the emergency baptism in the kitchen sink, was there as a witness. It was beautiful. Priest did the conditional baptism and we had a lovely day.

Tell your pastor what you’ve told us. Your grandmother knew well how to validly baptize, emergency baptisms used to be very common due to childbirth conditions and such. What your grandmother did was wrong, but likely was valid. But, based on testimony from your aunt, you can be pretty certain you were baptized.

Given all that, what the pastor will probably do is conditionally baptize you- it uses the formula “if you are not already baptized…” You should also talk to your pastor about making a good confession, since you have sins and if you were baptized already your conditional baptism will not remit sin.

Pastors have handled cases like this many times before.

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Thank you. I just find out digging a little deeper that what my grandmother did was not as unusual as it appeared to me when I first heard about it.

Oh, there are lots of grandmas baptizing babies in bathtubs, for sure. They should not do so, but grandmothers worry about their grandchildren. Grandma certainly should report the baptism to the Catholic pastor, but most grandmas don’t do that either.


Did she baptize you with water? (It doesn’t matter if it was cold or warm, fresh or salt, immersion or pouring or sprinkling - any are valid matter and form.) Valid matter is a must.

Did she say “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?” Valid form is a must.

Did she intend to baptize you into the Mystery of Christ, that you may die to the world so as to become a member of His Body? Valid intention is a must.

If you answer yes to all three of these questions, then she validly baptized you.

If you answer no to any of these questions, then there’s a good chance the baptism was not valid, and that you should receive a conditional baptism.

And sometimes when they do it’s in confidence and the Pastor can’t record it. I heard that from my former Pastor who, when I confided how desperate I was to baptize my grandsons in the bathtub but refrained knowing that I would then bind them to things they wouldn’t even know about, replied, “Please don’t do that. I have one family where the grandmother did that and it’s all a big mess right now.” When I said, “Well, couldn’t you just enter it in the register when she told you?” he replied, “Normally, I would have but she told me in confidence and there are too many people who would find out if it was recorded.”

Definitely talk with your pastor about this. Your aunt may be asked to write a letter affirming what she knows about your baptism. And just in general I wish that grandparents wouldn’t usurp the rights of parents to make decisions about how to raise their children. If grandma didn’t manage to pass the faith onto her children she doesn’t get to mess with another generation!

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Putting bureaucracy ahead of spirituality… not good.

I agree with your opinion here but I also can’t blame my grandmother for what she did because she genuinely did it out of concern for her grandchildren. In my case she is also the key influence for my late conversion. Despite her passing over thirty years ago her example still shines for me. My mother wasn’t mad about it at all when she heard the story.

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