It was a proud moment for the Diocese of Buffalo when 15 deacons were ordained this past September at Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna. Upon entering this sacred space the awareness and immensity of God's presence is captivating. Those gathered to celebrate the ordination struggled to recall a time in recent memory when there were so many prepared and ready to serve the Lord and his Church. This recent moment in the history of the diocese was like a bright light shining through a dark night. With the backdrop of the abuse scandal in the Diocese of Buffalo, and the imminence of a joyful ordination ceremony, visitors were observed stopping and praying at Father Baker's tomb.
During his own life and times, Father Baker was a bright light shining in a dark night. He fought in the American Civil War, enlisting in the Union Army at the age of 21. When he returned from war, he opened a feed store with a friend and, interested in charitable works, joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society. After sorting out his life aboard a steamer on Lake Erie, the young Nelson Baker entered the seminary at Niagara University and was ordained a priest at age 34. During his seminary training he made a trip to Europe where his devotion to Our Lady of Victory took root.
Father Baker's charitable works began in earnest when St. Patrick Parish in Lackawanna along with St. Joseph Orphanage and St. John's Protectory fell into debt, with the creditors demanding full payment. He used his life savings to pay the debt and developed a payment plan for the complete amount. During this time, Father Baker began the Association of Our Lady of Victory. He wrote to postmasters in towns across the country and requested the names and addresses of the Catholic women. He wrote to them, asking for their help in caring for the children at the orphanage and protectory and invited them to join the Association of Our Lady of Victory for a donation of 25 cents per year.
In 1888, Father Baker started a periodical, The Annals of the Association of Our Lady of Victory, sent to members to request help for the orphanage and protectory. The Annals was published until 1929, when it was absorbed by The Victorian Magazine, which was produced by the homes that Baker headed between 1895 and the early 1970s.
As Father Baker's city of charity expanded, a natural gas well was discovered on the land of the Our Lady of Victory Homes in 1891, which helped to offset heating costs. Gas still flows from this well. Biographers of Father Baker and local tradition claim that the discovery of this gas well was a miracle.
The light of Venerable Nelson Baker continues to shine brightly among the faithful in Western New York. His legacy at Our Lady of Victory Basilica and the homes of charity continues to draw people into God's life. The remarkable works he accomplished, considered impossible by many, were a bright light in dark times. The light shines on. Let us ask the intercession of this holy man to heal the victims of abuse, the diocese and the Church.