Things have not changed much since Father Baker's day. Back in the 1880s, the Padre of the Poor reached out to Catholics across the country via a direct mail campaign. Now, the Father Baker Guild does much the same thing.
Founded in 1988, the Father Baker Guild is the official organization for the promotion of the cause of the canonization of Venerable Nelson H. Baker. The guild raises funds and spreads the word about Father Baker's work in building the grand Our Lady of Victory Basilica and Shrine, the founding of the OLV Infant Home for unwed mothers and their babies, and a maternity hospital. Today, Baker Victory Services and Our Lady of Victory Homes of Charity continue the work Father Baker started.
"The Father Baker Guild started with the announcement that Father Baker was declared a servant of God," explained Richard Heist, executive director of the Our Lady of Victory Homes of Charity, which oversees the guild. "We had a Mass here on Oct. 7, the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, in 1987. It was at the end of that Mass that the announcement was made, that Father Baker had been declared a Servant of God by the Vatican."
Being declared a "Servant of God" is the first step of the canonization process.
The guild serves three purposes - to increase awareness of Father Baker, his works and his holiness; to ask for prayers for his canonization; and to ask for donations to help support the efforts of canonization.
In January 1988, the first mailing for the guild went out to a national donor base. "We wanted to make sure all of our friends and benefactors more aware of Father Baker's work here. Also to let them know how the Vatican has recognized his holiness," said Heist.
The guild proudly lays claim to 10,400 members on record, who reside in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Saipan (a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific Ocean), as well as Canada, Germany, Guam and Malta. Members usually have a connection to Father Baker through family members he has touched through one of the many ministries he founded.
"Many come from families whose parents or grandparents or even great grandparents, in one way or another, have become aware of Father Baker and our work here," Heist said. "We have sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters of people who were adopted here. When you look at the literally thousands of people who were adopted from Father Baker's, especially when the infant home was in full bloom, and also people who were descendants of those who lived here in St. John's Protectory, St. Joseph's Orphanage and the working boys home. So, there are those connections."
Those who donate $10-$24 are known as "Members." They receive a Father Baker membership certificate, a laminated holy card and Father Baker Medal, and a guild bookmark. "Patrons" receive a copy of "Our Lady of Victory Prayers for Healing" booklet, along with the Father Baker Medal, holy card and bookmark. Anyone donating more that $100 is known as a "Benefactor" and will receive an additional membership folio with a color photo of Father Baker, and a 135-page biography, "Apostle of Charity: The Father Nelson Baker Story."
The cost of the canonization process can get expensive. Lawyer and travel fees make up the bulk of the costs.
"Once Rome accepts the cause for canonization, you have to have, on retainer in Rome, a canon lawyer who's trained specifically in the canonization process," said Msgr. Paul J.E. Burkard, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Basilica and Shrine in Lackawanna. "So, we have a canon lawyer in Rome who is on the scene, handling our day-to-day operations whenever they happen to come up there."
Last year, about $4,000 went to the lawyer. There are also costs for medical consults to interpret documents, printing cost of prayer cards, and travel costs to Rome for Msgr. Burkard, who counts vice postulator for Father Baker's cause among his many job titles.
"Down the road, if we got to the point of having a ceremony for beatification and/or canonization, ultimately, there would be additional costs involved with that in terms of accommodations for Vatican guests who would be here, transportation for them and costs associated with the ceremony itself."
Baker Victory Services and Homes of Charity currently are at the end of a $12 million campaign. OLV has a $2 million capital campaign as well. Both campaigns have earmarked $250,000 for the cause.
But money isn't the prime focus of the guild.
"It really is about advancing knowledge of Father Baker in minds and lives of people across the country," Msgr. Burkard said.
Msgr. Burkard gave a quick "no," when asked if he could talk about the current miracle being looked at in Rome. He did give details on the process itself.
"We've had the miracle in front of Rome for about four years," he revealed. "It's a medical healing, which is what almost all miracles for canonization have to be. A board of doctors has to approve of it in Rome. They're reading the case right now. I was there in late October, early November. They read it until they have a medical question that is not answered in the documentation, then they'll stop and ask for more information from us.
"Ordinarily, that would mean going back to the doctors who were involved in the case here, and getting some more medical information from them. When they get all the information that they need, those doctors have to approve that there is no medical explanation for why the cure took place. That's what they're looking to prove."
When the board of doctors is finished, they pass it on to a board of theologians to look at the whole case overall to see if there is anything here that would challenge Catholic theology, or that would not be consistent with Catholic theology. Msgr. Burkard said that doesn't happen very often.
The board of theologians then hands on its recommendation to the congregation members, which are bishops and cardinals, who ultimately vote on the approval of the document. They pass that word on to the pope, who publically announces that the miracle has been accepted and beatification or canonization is about to take place.
"They don't move very quickly," Msgr. Burkard said. "They do a very thorough job. They're experts in medical areas, so they know what they're looking for. If they can't find it in the documentation, then we have to somehow find it for them."
Msgr. Burkard guessed the doctors are at the end of the reading process right now, but made it clear the Vatican works at its own pace.
OLV still sees about 35,000 visitors a year from all over the world. This year marks the 80th anniversary of Father Baker's passing. Plans to commemorate the occasion are in the works.
"Every year we have a Father Baker day at the end of July," said Tom Lucia, director of public relations and special events for OLV Homes of Charity and Baker Victory Services. "We talked about enhancing it this year, based on the fact that it's a special milestone anniversary."
For more information visit www.homesofcharity.org.