In honor of the 81st anniversary of Venerable Nelson H. Baker's death, Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica continued its longstanding tradition of honoring the beloved Buffalo icon on July 30. A congregation, including clergy, religious, lay faithful and "Baker Boys," men who lived at Father Baker's orphanage as young boys, listened as Msgr. Paul J.E. Burkard, rector of the basilica, urged all Catholic faithful to use Father Baker's life of service as an ideal role model for modern day sainthood.
The Mass began with a large procession, with members of groups such as the Knights of Columbus and Knights of St. John, the Baker Victory Services board, various parish organizations, the Legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Catholic Daughters of America in attendance. Before the closing hymn, some Baker Boys participated in a commemorative wreath laying at Father Baker's tomb.
After the Mass, attendees came to the Baker Hall school cafeteria for refreshments and had the chance to tour the basilica, all while reflecting on the importance of the man who made it possible. The Vatican has designated Father Baker as venerable, but one posthumous miracle must be attributed to him in order for him to be declared blessed, the next step before an individual is canonized in the Church.
"We commemorate his life, legacy and his perfection over all of us who are gathered here today as part of his family. We all look forward here to the next step in Father Baker's canonization," Msgr. Burkard said. "On the day Father Baker is beatified, the Church will assign a set of Mass prayers and texts, Scripture readings, that will be part of Father Baker's feast day Mass ... but if we had to choose Scripture readings for today, then we couldn't have picked more appropriate ones than the ones we had given to us today."
In the Gospel of Matthew, Msgr. Burkard recounted the parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl, in which Jesus likened the kingdom of God to both of these valuable items. "The treasure we find is God's kingdom. Jesus taught us that that even starts here now," he said. "That is the formula for Father Baker's life. If anyone lived the kingdom of God and lived it to the full, it was Father Nelson Baker."
Msgr. Burkard recalled how in 1874, several years before Father Baker was ordained, he visited Pope Pius IX as a seminarian. On their way to Lourdes, the local archbishop took the young man to several local churches in the city of Paris, one of which was Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, French for "Our Lady of Victories." While in front of the statue of Our Lady of Victory, Father Baker discovered his purpose.
"Father Baker committed himself to the kingdom of God, that treasure that he was looking for in life. He accepted that treasure in his life, and he accepted the kingdom of God under the protection of Our Lady of Victory. That is why our church is named that," Msgr. Burkard explained. "There was no indication before this that Father Baker had any particular devotion to Our Lady of Victory."
Throughout his life and until his death on July 29, 1936, Father Baker established himself as a famous figure in Western New York. While giving everything he had to serve others in need, without holding back, made Father Baker venerable and an ideal model of Catholicism, Msgr. Burkard said his example is one that everyday Catholics may follow in order to become better people themselves.
"That is why saints are so important in our Church: because they tell us what you and I can do, and what you and I can be," he continued. "In many ways, Father Baker was no different than you and I - a man, a little man at 5'3", a dynamo ... but in some ways, no different from you and I. He had to struggle through life and to find his way in life. He had unique challenges on all sides, sometimes, just as we do in our life, but he never lost focus of the importance of the treasure in his life, the kingdom of God that called him."
In 2011, when Father Baker's designation as venerable was announced, a news reporter asked one local woman religious why it was so important for the Church to honor Father Baker as a saint. Msgr. Burkard said a theologian could not have explained it in a more precise way than she did.
"She said, 'We honor him as a saint because he shows us who we are and what we can be. He shows us that we can follow in that same path, not exactly the steps he took, but every one of us is called to live the kingdom of God in their life, is called to embrace that kingdom. Give everything you have to focus constantly on the kingdom of God - what we say, what we do - and live out that kingdom every single day.'"