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A decision on whether Father Nelson Baker's well-preserved blood is, in itself, a miracle is solely in the hands of the Vatican and Pope John Paul II, Buffalo Bishop Henry J. Mansell said Monday.

"They assured us that everything that was requested, we have submitted. I heard nothing that suggested any problem. I'm very encouraged," said Mansell, reporting on his visit last week to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Mansell provided an update on the quest for sainthood for the Lackawanna priest during an impromptu news conference at St. Louis Catholic Church after accepting a $250,000 federal grant to clean decades of grit and soot from the exterior of the historic structure.

Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, obtained the grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is being funnelled to the church, located at Main and Edward streets, through the City of Buffalo.

Monsignor Robert A. Mack, pastor of St. Louis Church, said the $250,000 federal grant will be used to clean and repoint the church's Medina red sandstone front and steeple.

The work is the first phase of a $1 million project to restore the entire exterior of the huge Gothic, cathedralesque structure, the oldest Catholic parish in the Buffalo area. The parish hopes to have the project completed when it celebrates its 175th anniversary in 2004, he said.

Mansell, who was with Mack and LaFalce for the announcement, was back in Buffalo a week after going to Rome to attend the elevation of New York Archbishop Edward Egan to the rank of cardinal.

He also used the trip to get a progress report from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on its review of documentation regarding Father Baker's blood.

The blood was collected when Father Baker died in 1936, sealed in three vials and placed in a small chest that was buried on top of the priest's casket in Lackawanna's Holy Cross Cemetery.

When Father Baker's remains were moved from the cemetery to a crypt inside of Our Lady of Victory Basilica in March 1999, the blood was still in liquid form.

"We expected his blood to be dust," Mansell said Monday.

Diocesan officials regard the liquid condition of the blood as miraculous. They are praying that the Vatican congregation also will see it that way. If it does, Father Baker could be beatified and given the title "Blessed." A second miracle would be needed to declare him a saint.

Mansell said the scientific examination and testing of the blood is completed, and the findings by doctors and pathologists have been turned over for review to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The congregation also is examining testimony from everyone involved with the recovery of the blood when the body was moved two years ago. "The feeling I get is that they are pleased with the way things are going. Progress is being made. It was very positive," Mansell said.

In response to a question about when the Vatican congregation will make a decision, Mansell said: "I pray it will be sooner rather than later."

The bishop noted that if the canonization effort is successful, Father Baker will be the first American-born male to be canonized. St. John Neumann, who founded parishes in Western New York, was the first American male to be declared a saint, but he was born in Bohemia.

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