The First American-Born Male Saint

We received great news from the Vatican Friday, Jan. 14, 2011: Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed Pope John Paul II a Blessed and, in the same decree, declared the heroic virtues of Father Nelson Baker. He is now Venerable Father Nelson Baker.  This means that both individuals are closer to sainthood. Most know of Pope John Paul, but many do not know of Father Nelson Baker. Fr. Baker is loved and admired in the Buffalo, NY, area where he not only built Our Lady of Victory Basilica, but founded multiple charities, including a home for infants, a home for unwed mothers, and an orphanage. Fr. Baker lived a life of heroic virtue. When he becomes a saint, he will be the first American-born, male saint.

For those who are unfamiliar with the terms, Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed, and Saint, I will offer a short explanation. When the Vatican believes that a deceased person showed signs of holiness during his or her lifetime, a case may be opened and the person declared a Servant of God. Fr. Baker was a Servant of God, but Pope Benedict XVI has declared Father Baker Venerable. In order for the individual to become a Blessed, the Church needs a miracle attributed to the intercession of that person. In order for that person to become a Saint, a second miracle is needed. When one becomes  Venerable, Blessed or a Saint, the Church allows the veneration of the person to be more extensive. The Church holds the person up as a model of holiness and encourages the faithful to learn about the individual and seek the intercession of that individual.

Fr. Nelson Baker was born in Buffalo, NY, Feb. 16, 1842 and died July 29, 1936. He was the apostle of charity and the American Mother Theresa of Calcutta. As mentioned in my book, Miracles: Healing for a Broken World, “according to an article in the Buffalo Times, ‘during his ministry, Fr. Baker fed 50 million meals to the hungry. During the Great Depression, he served more than a million meals per year. He gave away millions of loaves of bread and clothed half a million people. 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 trade. Six hundred unmarried mothers in their distress knocked at his door and did not knock in vain. Because of Fr. Baker, more than 6,000 destitute and abandoned babies were placed in foster homes. At Fr. Baker’s funeral in 1936, Lackawanna’s streets were flooded with almost half a million people he had saved, physically and spiritually, or whose parents or grandparents he had saved.'”

Me devotion to Fr. Baker began in 2003 while I was serving as parochial vicar at St. Mary in Fredericksburg Va. As mentioned in Miracles, “One night I was lying on my bed in my room, in that twilight stage of not completely asleep, nor fully awake. When I looked toward my right, I saw a “man” whose body had no substance. He was a man, though, with a bald head and a very thin face. There were buttons going down the front of his cassock. He looked like a priest from a hundred years ago, and not at all frightening…”

To make a long story short, I learned that this man was Fr. Nelson Baker. I recognized him when I saw his picture that someone gave me. I felt inspired to make a retreat in May 2008 at the Church were he is buried, Our Lady of Victory in Lackawanna, NY. When I was about to catch my flight home, I met a woman named Debbie who had critical cancer, Stage 4 metastatic melanoma, and had been given only a few months to live. When I blessed her with a relic of Fr. Baker and prayed over her, asking Fr. Baker’s intercession for her healing, she was healed.

As I look back, I believe Fr. Baker appeared to me years ago, because he knew that one day I would continue his mission. He had a great love for women and their babies and also for pregnant women who might be tempted to abandon their babies. In 1906, Fr. Baker announced plans to construct the Our Lady of Victory Infant Home. In 2005 a couple of years after he appeared to me, I founded the Paul Stefan Home for Expectant Mothers.

The Paul Stefan Home for Expectant Mothers is taking the next step in the Pro-Life Movement by “saving babies, one mom at a time.” We now have 3 homes here in Virginia: 2 in Orange County and our third home in Falls Church. Since our founding we have helped over 80 women and babies. We trust that God wants hundreds if not thousands of Paul Stefan Home across the country.

It is amazing that although Fr. Baker and I are separated by 100 years, his mission lives on in the Paul Stefan Home for Expectant Mothers.

Fr. Baker, pray for us.

Fr Stefan, the spiritual advisor to the Paul Stefan Homes for Expectant Mothers.

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