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HONOR SHARED AMONG STAFF WHO AID YOUTH

And the winner is:

With the 150th anniversary celebrations of Our Lady of Victory Institutions three years in the planning, the buzz had been building about who would receive the annual Father Baker Service to Youth Award.

Would it be Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, who took over as shepherd of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo a little more than a week ago? The Sisters of St. Joseph? Baker's Kids?

Recipients exemplify the values and dedication of the Rev. Nelson H. Baker, founder of Our Lady of Victory Home, who is in the process of canonization as a saint. During his 60 years of service, social programs he instituted helped countless youth and their families.

Monsignor Robert C. Wurtz, head of Our Lady of Victory Institutions, ended the speculation Friday at the 24th annual Friends of Father Baker Reception in the Statler Golden Ballroom.

"There are people who have reached out and held up my arms as they held up the arms of Moses so the fight could be continued and be won," Wurtz said. "You, our employees, are the recipients of the Father Baker service award this year."

Gasps of surprise arose from the crowd, which included nearly 200 of the more than 1,000 Our Lady of Victory Institutions employees.

"You have all been arms of support," Wurtz continued. "You are the ones who have made Father Baker what it is today."

During the past week, Bishop Kmiec has received a crash course about the role of Our Lady of Victory Institutions in the diocese.

The services "just staggered my mind," he said. "It was a great enlightenment to me."

"Your reward will be great in heaven because you have touched the hearts of those who need so much," he told the employees.

The employees present were asked to come up on the stage for a group photograph. They filled several levels of risers, a row of chairs and the edge of the stage. After photographs were taken, one more surprise was revealed.

Rick Heist, director of development at Baker Victory Services; James J. Casion, the chief executive officer; and Sister Ellen O'Keefe, principal of Our Lady of Victory Elementary School, handled the introduction.

"There's one employee that rightfully deserves to be singled out, even though he's most likely to be upset with us for doing so," Heist said.

It was Wurtz.

"I felt that something would happen tonight," Wurtz said. "I'm so grateful. Thank you, all. The staff. You deserve this not me," he said.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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