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World-class museum fit for a saint is a must-see

Imagine this. The leader of your organization wakes up one day and decides he's going to do something about the cost of heat this winter. Furthermore, he's not just going to cut expenses, but eliminate the bills altogether.

How's he going to do it? Lower the thermostats? Switch from fossil fuels? Move the entire operation South? How about drill a gas well right on the property!

What's that? The experts have already declared that the ground he's thinking about poking into is bone dry. No problem, your boss says. He's going to appeal to a "higher power."

And assuming he can indeed raise the capital needed to mount such a far-fetched project, where, exactly, does he plan to dig?

"That one's easy," he replies, as he begins quietly singing while leading a small parade of followers down a muddy path. He then suddenly stops, bows down and buries a small statue in what he states is the "exact spot" to drop the bit.

Farfetched? Perhaps. True? Completely.

If you have visited the recently renovated and expanded museum dedicated to the astounding life of Father Nelson H. Baker at Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica, then you know the rest of the story.

After drilling down 1,000 feet into Lackawanna's Limestone Hill and praying the eighth consecutive day of a Novena, "Father Baker's Folly" had done it. He had incredibly struck a new natural gas underground pool, and today, more than 100 years later, the "Victory Well" continues to supply gas to OLV's institutions.

This amazing but true tale from Baker's wonderful works is just one in a panorama of spectacular portraits that have been brought to life in words, photographs and actual artifacts now on display in the new OLV museum.

Constructed under the leadership of Monsignor Paul J.E. Burkard, who oversees the basilica and OLV's human services operations, and featuring a treasure trove of factual riches and poignant prose expertly researched and written by Beth Donovan, director of public relations, the new Fr. Baker Museum is not only world class, but is certain to continue to speed this great man and his life-transforming work to the sainthood that countless feel he so richly deserves.

Being born and raised in Buffalo, I can only faintly remember elders issuing "threats" about trips to Fr. Baker's. But after working at nearby Gibraltar Industries and being introduced by colleague and Hamburg native Ken Houseknecht to the amazement that is the Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica, I have found myself continually intrigued by Baker's life story. Thanks to the museum now open at OLV, that fascination has found a spectacular home.

Upon reaching the Basilica's ground floor and opening exquisite glass doors, you will be greeted by Baker himself, offering a most welcoming warm smile from a portrait done in oils. As your eyes meet his, you look to the left and are immediately dazzled by the books, vestments and personal articles Baker utilized in daily life.

From there, you are swept forward in time-line sequence, marveling at achievement after achievement brought back to life in actual photographs, richly researched words and amazing restorations including exhibits such as Fr. Baker's boys' dormitory room and the personal quarters where the great man himself actually worked, studied and slept. You can even gaze upon Baker's actual human face captured in mask form made shortly after his passing.

Was he really once just a common man? And did this self-described simple servant really single-handedly shepherd the construction of a $3.5 million project beginning in 1921 and finishing on time and debt free in 1925 despite having no money set aside or other resources reserved other than his abundant faith? Again, the answer to both is a resounding yes.

As we look to sharing special experiences with family and friends during the holiday season, consider a visit -- regardless of your religious faith -- to our area's newest world-class museum. The admission is free and the inspiration is abundant.

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Peter Ciotta is a communications professional and resides in Snyder.

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