Documentary explores the building of Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna - The Buffalo News
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Documentary explores the building of Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna

At one point in the mammoth effort to construct Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, the builders encountered a major problem: The main dome collapsed.

“There was a ring that wasn’t placed properly, and it caused weakness, and the dome actually caved in,” said Claire A. Rung, executive producer of Daybreak TV Productions.

Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the near-disaster was fixed.

The little-known anecdote was uncovered during hundreds of hours of research for “Building a Basilica,” a new documentary set to air Sunday about the construction of Our Lady of Victory Basiica in the 1920s.

The 60-minute film, produced by Daybreak TV Productions and narrated by actor Brian Dennehy, will air at noon on WKBW-TV Channel 7.

The film traces how the magnificent structure, designed by architect Emile Ulrich, came into being through the vision and perseverance of Father Nelson H. Baker, the Lackawanna priest who is being considered for sainthood.

Baker pushed to build the basilica at Ridge Road and South Park Avenue with the finest materials and artists working together on an architectural masterpiece.

It was completed in 1925 at a cost of $3.2 million, paid for through donations and with no debt to the parish. The project wasn’t without plenty of polite tension between Baker and Ulrich, though, as revealed in letters between the two.

The two men had a great fondness for each other, but they were regularly “butting heads because Baker would start things before Ulrich was done drawing the designs,” Rung said.

The documentary took 2ø years to make and was funded by a private gift.

Producers from Daybreak, the television arm of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo’s communications office, interviewed various contemporary architects, compiled historical footage and filmed re-enactments of pivotal events of the time – including a fire that destroyed much of the previous church at the site, St. Patrick.

The fire scene, which opens the movie, includes local firefighters in period gear and using period equipment.

Some of the archival footage was obtained from a Georgia company that produced the white marble blocks gracing the exterior of the basilica – the same marble used to make the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The documentary also is scheduled to air on 127 television affiliate stations in markets across the country between Sunday and April 20.


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