Modern Day Saint

Father Nelson Baker

A Saint from Lackawanna?

Nelson Henry Baker was born in Buffalo, New York on February 16, 1841 to a German Lutheran father and an Irish Catholic mother. Nelson became a Catholic at age nine. After public school education, he joined the 74th Regiment of the New York State Militia, and took part in the early phases of what became the Battle of Gettysburg. Part of his service included helping to put down the New York draft riots. After his tour in the Militia he and a friend established a feed and grain business that quickly became a commercial success. His friends all thought that his intelligence, drive, and business acumen would take him to the top of the Gilded Age.

God had other ideas. The thought of the priesthood kept gnawing at Nelson Baker. He completed his education in a newly formed Canisius College and then entered the seminary. During a European pilgrimage in 1874, Nelson formed a strong devotion to Our Lady of Victory, and dedicated his new future priestly life to her service. Ordained in 1876 Father Baker would spend the next 60 years in a vast ministry of charity whose effects are still felt throughout the Buffalo New York area today.

Our Lady of Victory Homes of Charity would eventually include and an orphanage, an industrial school, an infants home, a home for unwed mothers, and a maternity home. In good times and bad it was Father Baker that those who had nowhere to turn, turned. Father Baker was also a pioneer of direct-mail fund raising, drawing a bead on potential Catholic donors by getting sympathetic postmasters across the country to send him the appropriate Irish, German, and Italian names and addresses in their locales. On his death, the Buffalo Times summed up his accomplishments: “To the hungry during his ministry he fed fifty million meals. During the depression he was serving more than a million meals per year. He gave away a million loaves of bread. He clothed the naked to the number of half a million. He gave medical care to 250,000 and supplied medicine to 200,000 more. Over 300,000 men, women and children received some sort of training at his hands. A hundred thousand boys were trained for trades. Six hundred unmarried mothers in their distress knocked at his door and did not knock in vain. Because of Father Baker more than 6,000 destitute and abandoned babies were placed in foster homes. When Father Baker died in 1936, Lackawanna’s streets were flooded with almost half a million people, men and women he had saved, physically and spiritually – or whose parents or grandparents he had saved.

His remains now at rest in another of his accomplishments: The Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Victory near the Homes of Charity. Father Baker kept his promise – to the poor and to Mary.

A cause for his beatification was officially approved in 1987 and the people of the Buffalo Diocese are praying for the miracle that makes this extraordinary priest Blessed Nelson Baker.

Taken from an article by George Weigel, senior fellow of the Ethics and Public policy Center in Washington, D.C.


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