LACKAWANNA, NY (WKBW) — It has been more than three decades since the effort first began to have Father Nelson Baker named a saint.
But it is a long process that requires proof of a miracle. Father Baker died more than 80-years ago, but his legacy as "Padre of the Poor" remains at Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna and at Baker Victory Services.
Each day people visit Our Lady of Victory to pray at the tomb of Father Baker.
“What is it about Father Baker that makes you pray to him?” asked Buckley. “He hears prayers. He was a poor man and he knows what it’s like to see all children without homes,” replied Rosa Maria Gullo.
Gullo visits OLV often to pray. She says in the late 70's she wasn't able to have children, so she prayed to Father Baker and then adopted two children.
Father Baker is best remembered for his work with children and responsible for building the Basilica. He is considered a saintly priest for helping the poor.
Nine years ago, this week the Vatican declared Father Baker "Venerable". That is step two in a long-four step process to sainthood.
“This is a stage where you present a miracle for Rome to approve – that would lead to beatification. One more miracle after that would lead to canonization,” said Msgr. Paul Burkard, vice postulator, Father Baker’s Cause for Canonization.
Msgr. Burkard is a former OLV pastor and is promoter of Father Baker's cause for sainthood.
The Vatican first accepted the cause for sainthood in 1987, declaring him a "Servant of God".
The Vatican is now reviewing a Father Baker miracle, but they're not allowed to reveal it.
“Almost all the miracles for canonization these days are for a physical cure – so that’s not unusual for us to have that here – it’s pretty the norm,” remarked Msgr. Burkard.
Father Baker died in 1936 at the age of 94. Inside the Father Baker museum, at the Basilica, there is a ‘death mask' of Father Baker. It was customary at that time to make death masks of prominent people.
In 1999 Father Baker's remains were removed from Holy Cross Cemetery, near the basilica, including a container of his blood.
“It was an amazing moment. I still get goose bumps when I think about it,” recalled Msgr. David LiPuma, pastor & rector, OLV National Shrine, president, OLV institutions.
Msgr. David LiPuma is now the sixth pastor of OLV since Father Baker. He remembers the day when the container was brought to a hospital morgue.
“And to the amazement of everyone and the doctor was there as well, they were still liquefied, so from 1936 to 1999,” Msgr. David LiPuma remembered.
But that's not enough for the Vatican to name him saint.
“There are over 2,000 cases for beatification and canonization in the pipeline in the church,” said Msgr. Burkard.
Msgr. Burkard also noted while some internationally popular saints were fast tracked, like Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, others have taken decades.
“I had something to do with the cause for Mother Marianne Cope in Syracuse and her cause took 85 years from the time it was open until the time she was canonized. We’re in the year 32 for Father Baker, so we’re a little ahead of where they were at that time. People will certainly see, I think, beatification and then, hopefully, shortly after that canonization,” said Msgr. Burkard
For now, OLV’s pastor prays for Baker's sainthood and for his own work.
“Every day I come in here and I kneel down and pray and I ask him to help me as he did such great work,” explained Msgr. LiPuma.
“What’s it like to follow in the shoes of Father Baker?” Buckley asked. “It’s impossible,” Msgr. LiPuma responded. “For me it’s very humbling to walk in those footsteps, but it’s also just an honor and privilege to be able to help carry forward that legacy.”
Today OLV still serve over 4,000 children and families each year with many challenges.