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BAKER KIDS REUNITE, REMINISCE

John Sullivan of Lackawanna remembers the day Father Nelson Baker died.

On July 29, 1936, Sullivan and the more than 600 boys at St. Joseph's orphanage were sent to Camp Baker so hundreds of mourners could attend funeral services at Our Lady of Victory Institutions.

"I was 7 or 8 and we all got shipped off to camp and had to sleep two to a bed," Sullivan said. During a regular summer, boys were sent to the camp in smaller groups for two weeks at a time.

Sullivan, now 75, was one of more than 50 "Father Baker's Boys" who attended a reunion ceremony Sunday afternoon in Father Baker Knights of Columbus Hall in Lackawanna.

The event is part of a weeklong 150th anniversary celebration of the institutions.

Born in Our Lady of Victory Infant Home, Sullivan was moved to the orphanage when he was 5 years old.

"We were all so scared when we had to move," he said. "It was like the first day of kindergarten."

Sullivan said he has no complaints of the 18 years he spent at Father Baker's, although he wishes he had received a better education.

"I had everything I needed there, including fights with the other boys," he said. "It was a good experience."

Father Baker is credited with bringing the institutions out of debt in the late 1800s and creating a caring environment for thousands of children.

He is currently a candidate for sainthood.

The Our Lady of Victory Institutions are made up of Our Lady of Victory Homes of Charity, which includes St. Joseph's Orphanage, St. John's Protectory, Our Lady of Victory Infant Home and Baker Hall; Baker Victory Services; and Our Lady of Victory Parish and National Shrine.

"There are only about 20 of the original Baker Boys still alive today," Beth Donovan, spokeswoman for the institutions, said.

"Original means they were here when Father Baker was still alive."

Jerry Cumiskey is also one of them. He was born in the infant home in 1928 and lived at the orphanage until 1948.

"Times were hard, but I look at it as three meals a day and a place to sleep," the Prattsburgh resident said. "I've never regretted staying at Father Baker's, it doesn't do any good to do flashbacks of what ifs."

Growing up in the orphanage gave him support and helped him through a period in his life, Cumiskey said.

"I always had somebody looking after me," he said. "Father Baker gave me self-reliance and it had become a way of life."

The last reunion held for Father Baker's Boys was 15 years ago and, this year, the invitations were broadened to include family of the boys as well as anyone who spent any time at Father Baker's, Donovan said.

Monsignor Robert Wurtz is the current pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish, president of the board of Baker Victory Services and vice postulator for Father Baker's ongoing Cause of Canonization.

"It's such a milestone in social services to have an institution still operating under the same guidelines as it was when it was first founded 150 years ago," he said. "Its functions are the same, but it's increased in size."

e-mail: bmehta@buffnews.com

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