Nelson Henry Baker
|Born||February 16, 1842|
|Died||July 29, 1936(aged 95)|
Nelson Henry Baker (February 16, 1841 – July 29, 1936) was a Roman Catholic priest and church administrator in the Buffalo, New York area. At the time of his death in 1936, the "city of charity" he developed under the patronage of Our Lady of Victory in Lackawanna, New York consisted of a minor basilica, an infant home, a home for unwed mothers, a boys' orphanage, a boys’ protectory, a hospital, a nurses' home, and a grade and high school. Since 1986, the Our Lady of Victory parish and the Diocese of Buffalo have been working to secure canonization.
Henry Baker was born in Buffalo, New York on February 16, 1842 to Lewis Becker (later Baker) and Caroline Donnellan. He was the second eldest of four sons. His father, a German Evangelical Lutheran, was a retired mariner. Lewis had opened a grocery and general goods store on Batavia Street (now called Broadway) in Buffalo and is said to have instilled an astute business sense in young Nelson, who worked there after graduating from high school in 1858. His mother was a devout Irish Catholic, and Baker was baptised a Roman Catholic in 1851, aged 9.
Baker enlisted as a Union soldier in early July 1863 as part of the 74th regiment of the New York State Militia during the Civil War. His regiment, which saw duty along the Pennsylvania front at the Battle of Gettysburg, helped quell the New York City draft riots. After returning home from his military service, he started a successful feed and grain business with his friend, Joseph Meyer, another Civil War veteran. He demonstrated a strong interest in religious matters and joined the St. Vincent DePaul Society. He began taking Latin classes at St. Michael's residence in Buffalo, which would become Canisius College in 1870.
Following a Spiritual Calling
In the summer of 1869 Nelson took a steamer trip along the Lake Erie shoreline and used this time to sort out his life. Upon returning to Buffalo his decision was made, he would enter the priesthood. His mother was delighted with the news, however his father, brother and former business partner were not sure.
Nelson Baker entered Our Lady of Angels Seminary (now Niagara University) on September 2, 1869. He was hospitalized for eighteen weeks when he was taken ill with erysipelas, known in the Middle Ages as “St. Anthony’s Fire.” During his time at the seminary, he was part of a group of 108 that went on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1874 to support the creation of the Papal States. On this pilgrimage, the group stopped in Paris, France and toured the Our Lady of Victories Sanctuary. Several biographers of Baker note that it was this visit to the Marian shrine in France that marked the beginning of his lifelong devotion to Our Lady of Victory. In Rome the group briefly met Pope Pius IX at the Vatican. Baker was ordained on March 19, 1876 by Bishop Stephen V. Ryan at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Buffalo, New York. His first assignment was as an assistant to Father Thomas Hines at Limestone Hill, New York (now known as Lackawanna, New York). The parish there consisted of St. Patrick’s church, St. Joseph's Orphanage, and a St. John's Protectory. Father Baker would stay at this assignment until 1881 when he was transferred to St. Mary's Parish in Corning, New York to assist the Reverend Peter Colgan. In 1882, Father Baker was transferred back to Limestone Hill as Superintendent.
The "Padre of the Poor"
Father Baker had little time to enjoy his new position. Only a few days after his arrival back Limestone Hill, a group of creditors informed the priest that the three institutions had amassed a sizeable debt and they demanded immediate payment. He assured them that they would be repaid, citing his past dealings as a businessman.
Using the remaining savings he had, he repaid part of the debt and entered into verbal agreements to repay the balance. During this time, Father Baker also came up with the idea of "The Association of Our Lady of Victory". He took the step of writing to postmasters in towns across the country and requesting the names and addresses of the Catholic women in their area. Then he wrote these ones and asked for their help in caring for the children in his care at the orphanage and protectory. They could join the "Association of Our Lady of Victory" for a donation of $.25 (25 cents) a year.
Baker started a journal, The Annals of the Association of Our Lady of Victory in 1888 to go out to Association members and solicit help for the orphanage and protectory. This Annals was published until 1929 when it became absorbed by one of the other publications put out by the Homes Baker headed, The Victorian Magazine which was published between 1895 and the early 1970s.
Baker's approach to raising money worked, and the creditors were paid in full by June 1889. Father Baker also worked to make sure that he was never in debt again. In 1891, a natural gas well was discovered on the land of the Our Lady of Victory Homes, which helped to offset heating costs. Local traditional stories claim that the discovery of this gas well was a miracle.
Honored in his home community as "Buffalo's most influential citizen of the 20th century" his name was given to a major bridge on New York State Route 5. He has also received church honors, both during his lifetime and since his death.
He was named Vicar General of the Buffalo Diocese in 1904, and Rome commended his religious leadership in 1923 by naming him Prothonotary Apostolic ad instar Participantium, an honor accorded to only five other clergymen in the United States at that time.
"A few years ago, the Vatican suggested that Father Baker's body be exhumed and buried in the OLV Basilica to enable people to have a greater opportunity to approach him reverently, and possibly afford the Church an opportunity to witness and verify a miracle. This was accomplished in March, 1999"
On 14 January 2011, Pope Benedict XVI authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree recognizing Fr. Baker's "heroic virtue," a prerequisite for his eventual beatification.
- Roman Catholicism in the United States#American Catholic Servants of God, Venerables, Beatified, and Saints
- "His Early Life". www.ourladyofvictory.org. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
- Msgr Walter Kern, “The Life and Times of Father Baker”, Western New York Catholic, December 1989
- "Niagara Nuggets". www.niagara.edu. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-29.
- Pfoutz, C. (October 4, 2000). "Q: What about Our Lady of Victory?". The Marian Library/International Marian Research. Retrieved 2007-08-04.
- Thomas Galvin, A Modern Apostle of Charity: Father Baker and his “Lady of Victory Charities” (Buffalo: The Buffalo Catholic Publication Co., 1925), 21; Floyd Anderson Father Baker (Buffalo, 1960), 51
- Heather A. Hartel, Producing Father Nelson H. Baker: The Practices of Making a Saint for Buffalo NY, doctoral dissertation, University of Iowa, 2006
- Pronechen, Joseph (2011-02-18). "American Sanctity: Father Nelson Baker". National Catholic Register (Palm Coast, FL). Retrieved 2011-11-14.
- Vatican Information Service, "Decrees of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints" (14 January 2011) http://www.visnews-en.blogspot.com/
- Official Father Baker Information
- Information about Lackawanna, New York
- Father Nelson H. Baker Blog
- Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary : The Servant of God, Father Nelson Baker
- Nelson Baker at Find-A-Grave
- Niagara Nuggets