October 31, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Possible U.S. saints: Father Nelson Baker

John F. Fink(Twenty-third in a series of columns)

Father Nelson Baker accomplished an amazing amount of good, thanks to Our Lady of Victory—and natural gas.

He developed his devotion to Our Lady of Victory when, as a seminarian, he made a pilgrimage to Notre Dame des Victoires in Paris. He promised Mary that he would promote devotion to her under that title.

After his ordination, he was assigned to St. Patrick’s Parish in Buffalo, N.Y. It included an orphanage and boys’ home—both deeply in debt.

He began a fundraising campaign by founding the Association of Our Lady of Victory. To keep donors informed, he published a magazine, The Annals of Our Lady of Victory. As donations came in, he expanded the orphanage and built a trade school for orphan boys.

Then he became convinced that there was natural gas on the Church’s property. Somehow, he was able to convince his bishop to let him drill for it. When the drilling crew arrived, he buried a small statue of Our Lady of Victory about a foot into the ground and told them to dig as close to the statue as possible without touching it.

Drilling went on for months. Novenas were said, but no gas. Drilling continued—600 feet, 800 feet, 1,000 feet. Then, on Aug. 21, 1891, a stream of gas shot up from 1,137 feet, lit an open forge and rocketed an 80-foot flame into the sky.

Father Baker had the money that he needed. He added a gym and recreation hall to his boys’ home, started a home for his vocational school graduates, constructed a home for abandoned infants (with a bassinet in the foyer where anyone could leave a baby) and a hospital for unwed mothers.

In all, he built two dozen major buildings and at one point was housing and educating almost 400 young boys and 100 working boys. To feed them, he bought a 275-acre farm. In all this work, he had the help of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

In 1921, when he was 79, he started building a shrine to Our Lady of Victory. Five years later, Cardinal Patrick Hayes of New York dedicated the completely-paid-for Basilica of Our Lady of Victory.

When Father Baker died in 1936 at age 94, The Buffalo Times summed up his accomplishments: “To the hungry during his ministry, he fed 50 million meals. During the Depression at one time, he was serving more than a million meals a year. He gave away a million loaves of bread. He clothed the naked to the number of a half million. He gave medical care to 250,000 and supplied medicines to 200,000 more. Three hundred thousand men, women and children received some sort of education or training at his hands. A hundred thousand boys were trained for trades. Six hundred thousand unmarried mothers in their distress knocked at his door and did not knock in vain. More than 6,000 destitute and abandoned babies were placed in foster homes.”

All because of his devotion to Our Lady of Victory. †

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