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EWTN comes to Lackawanna to spotlight Father Baker

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Tom Lajewski, from OLV Charities, portrays Father Nelson Baker on his ordination day, while a video crew from EWTN film “They Might Be Saints.” An episode focusing on Buffalo’s own Father Baker will air in January.

EWTN came to Buffalo to learn a little bit more about Father Baker. A crew from the Catholic-themed cable channel visited OLV National Shrine & Basilica and St. Joseph Cathedral in August to film an episode of “They Might Be Saints” focusing on Buffalo’s Padre for the Poor, Venerable Nelson H. Baker.

“They Might Be Saints” is an ongoing docu-series that tells the stories of Americans on the path to sainthood and the search for canonization miracles. Each half-hour episode tells of one of the estimated 100 American causes for sainthood.

“With this project, I’ve began studying various lives of Americans in this position,” explained host Michael O’Neill. “We have as many as 100 canonizations causes in the United States. So, I started familiarizing myself with them and contacting various causes, but a friend of mine actually pointed me to Father Baker and told me about his incredible life. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, so I looked it up. Then I contacted Msgr. Paul Burkard here, the vice postulator for Msgr. Nelson Baker, and that part of the process began. We had conversations about it. That project kept going.”

With all the cases he’s looked at, you would think O’Neill has seen everything, but he found Father Baker’s business sense, as well as the lengths he went to for those in need to be impressive.

“He seemed to be a very faithful man, very trusting in God’s providence, and I loved his entrepreneurial spirit. You don’t see that in every priest, somebody who had this vision for this basilica at the age of 79 and building it,” said O’Neill. “This compassion he had for so many people, whether it was the poor, the elderly, the unwed mothers, the children who were orphans, having that kind of attention and care for all the people in his community was amazing to me. I was impressed that not only was he able to fundraise on his own to take care of these things, to innovate in that way – sending out direct mail for fundraising, being able to fund the building of the basilica on his own. Those are all amazing things to me. I think his story needs to be known.”

Cast and crew of the Father Baker-themed episode of EWTN’s “They Might Be Saints” gather at St. Joseph Cathedral after a day of shooting. Pictured are (from left) host Michael O’Neill, OLV Charities CEO David Kersten (as Bishop Stephen Ryan), Tom Lajewski (as Father Nelson Baker), producer Thomas Cheely, cinematographer Mark Davis and gaffer Bill Pawlowski. (Photos by Patrick J. Buechi)

The production included interviews with Msgr. Burkard, as well as, Bishop Michael W. Fisher; Msgr. David LiPuma, current pastor of OLV; Father Richard Gribble, CSC, author of the definitive biography; and Duncan G. Stroik, expert architect who spoke about the complexities of building OLV Basilica.

There are also reenactments of milestones in Father Baker’s life, such as his childhood and his ordination. Staff and volunteers of OLV Charities played the parts.

“It’s a fun way to connect with the people who care the most about Father Baker,” explained O’Neill.

With OLV just kicking off a five-year celebration of the basilica’s centennial, Msgr. LiPuma was thrilled by the timing of the project.

“As people know, EWTN has their footprint across the globe. There are over a quarter million people across 140 countries, they say, and 70 million in the U.S. alone. So, to be able to take the cause of Father Baker and to have it out there for so many more people to see gives us great hope that miracles will come in and our goal to have him beatified and canonized will become a reality,” he said.

Although seen as a hometown hero, Father Baker is known nationwide. He is known as the “patron saint of direct mail,” due to his asking the postmaster for names of Catholic women’s organizations across the country, which he solicited for funds. 

“We have generations of donors who, to this day, continue to give because their great-grandparents gave,” Msgr. LiPuma said. “It’s an amazing true-life story about what one man with deep faith can accomplish.”

Bishop Fisher hopes the episode shows people the impact Father Baker had on the Diocese of Buffalo and the Church of the United States.

“What he created in his city of charity was just incredible. He never gave up. He kept moving forward,” Bishop Fisher said. “That was one of the virtues that I see in him that, in spite of his age. He was 79 when he built the basilica. He could have sat back on his laurels and maybe enjoyed a little bit of retirement. But, looking at his life, he showed us: Priests don’t retire. They still have lots of work to do.” 

The episode will air in February 2022 to coincide with Father Baker’s birthday. “They Might Be Saints” can be seen on EWTN, Mondays 11:30 a.m. and Fridays 5 p.m. Visit Theymightbesaints.com for more information.

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