Servant of God Nelson Baker, American Diocesan Priest (1842-1936)
Nelson Henry Baker was born 16 February 1841 in Buffalo, New York, to a German Lutheran father and an Irish Catholic mother. At his mother’s behest, he was baptized Catholic at the age of 9. In 1863, he enlisted in the New York State Militia, and took part in the Battle of Gettysburg. After the War, he started a successful feed and grain business. An interest in religion led him to join the St Vincent DePaul Society. After a thoughtful trip on Lake Erie in the summer of 1869, he entered Our Lady of the Angels Seminary (Niagara University). Ordained a priest by Bishop Stephen Ryan, 19 March 1876, at St Joseph’s Cathedral in Buffalo, he was assigned to assist Father Thomas Hines, Limestone Hill (Lackawanna), New York, whose parish included St Patrick’s Church, St Joseph’s Orphanage, and St John’s Protectory.
In 1882, Fr Baker was promoted to Superintendant at Limestone Hill, inheriting a heavy debt on the properties. He paid part of the debt from his savings, and established The Association of Our Lady of Victory, funded by Catholic women from across the country. These helped to meet the needs of the children in his care, and the properties soon became debt-free. In 1904 he was named Vicar General of the Buffalo Diocese, and Rome gave him the title Prothonotary Apostolic ad instar Participantium in 1923.
At the time of his death in 1936, the institutions he had developed under the patronage of Our Lady of Victory included a minor basilica, an infant home, a home for unwed mothers, a boys’ orphanage, a boy’s protectory, a hospital, a nurses’ home, a grade and high school. His cause for canonization began in 1986. In 1987, he was named Servant of God. On 14 January 2011, Pope Benedict XVI authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to publish a decree recognizing his heroic virtue, an important step toward his beatification.