Monday, August 29, 2016


We have some new prospects for American saints, all from the east coast and all having a love for underprivileged children. The first is VENERABLE NELSON HENRY BAKER who was born in Buffalo, New York on February 16, 1842 to Lewis Becker (later Baker) and Caroline Donnellan. His parents German and Irish came during a period when the rate of immigration was increasing from Europe. He was the second eldest of four sons. 

His father, a German Evangelical Lutheran, was a retired mariner who had opened a grocery and general goods store in Buffalo. He is said to have instilled an astute business sense in young Nelson,  who worked in the store after graduating from high school in 1858. Nelson's mother Caroline was a devout Irish Catholic, and the children were all baptized and reared as Catholic. Nelson was baptized a Roman Catholic in 1851, aged 9.
During the Civil War, Nelson enlisted at age 21 as a Union soldier in early July 1863 as part of the 74th regiment of the New York State Militia. His regiment, which saw duty along the Pennsylvania front at the Battle of Gettysburg, was used to help quell the New York City draft riots in 1863. Crowds of largely ethnic Irish rioted in protest of the draft; in their resentment they attacked African Americans, and their homes and businesses. Both groups competed in low-paying jobs.
After returning home from the war,Nelson started a successful feed and grain business with his friend, Joseph Meyer, another 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.

In the summer of 1869 Nelson took a steamer trip along the Lake Erie shoreline, using this time to sort out his life. By the time he returned to Buffalo, he had decided to enter the priesthood. His mother was delighted with the news; however, his father, brother, and former business partner Meyer were not sure.
Nelson Baker entered Our Lady of Angels Seminary in 1869. During his studies 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. Visiting the Marian shrine in France was the start of his lifelong devotion to Our Lady of Victory.
He was ordained in 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 St. John's Protectory. A protectory is a Roman Catholic institution for the shelter and training of the young, designed to afford neglected or abandoned children shelter, food, raiment and the rudiments of an education in religion, morals, science and manual training or industrial pursuits. 
A few days after Father Baker returned to Limestone Hill, a group of creditors informed the priest that the three parish 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 his remaining personal savings, he repaid part of the debt and entered into verbal agreements to repay the balance.
During this time, Father Baker developed the concept 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. He wrote to these women, asking for their help in caring for the children at the orphanage and protectory. They could join the "Association of Our Lady of Victory" for a donation of 25 cents a year.
Basilica of Our Lady of Victory
Father Baker's approach to raising money worked, and the creditors were paid in full by June 1889. Father Baker also worked to ensure his parish did not go into 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.
By 1901, the number of boys at St. John’s Protectory tripled to 385, and in St. Joseph’s Orphanage, the total number of children doubled to 236. The city was attracting thousands of immigrants to work in new industries, and some were families in need.
Father Baker was named Vicar General of the Buffalo Diocese in 1904. Rome commended his religious leadership in 1923 by naming him Protonotary Apostolic ad instar Participantium, an honor accorded to only five other clergymen in the United States at that time.
He died in 1939 and is still honored in his home community as "Buffalo's most influential citizen of the 20th century".

At the time of his death he had developed a "city of charity" under the patronage of Our Lady of Victory in Lackawanna, New York. It 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.
Father Baker was honored by a major bridge on New York State Route 5 being named for him. He remains a favorite local figure in the Buffalo area because of his history of charity.

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