Father Nelson H. Baker's journey to sainthood moved forward Friday, when Pope Benedict XVI approved an 800-page review of the Lackawanna priest's life.
Father Baker, who died almost 75 years ago, has been declared the Venerable Father Nelson H. Baker. He devoted his priesthood to charitable works, helping mostly babies, children and women. He also greatly expanded Our Lady of Victory Parish in Lackawanna.
"We rejoice today that in a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has declared the heroic virtues of Servant of God Father Nelson Baker," the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo said in a statement.
After the Vatican accepted the petition for Father Baker's sainthood in 1988, the priest was given the title "servant of God."
The next step toward sainthood requires the Vatican to accept a miracle attributed to Father Baker. Evidence of one is now pending before the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints; diocesan officials would not reveal details about the miracle that is being investigated.
How long it will take to make a decision on that is unknown. It could take 100 years or a much shorter period, officials with the diocese said.
The document detailing Father Baker's life was submitted in sections, with the last portion sent to the congregation in November.
Friday's decree was based on a recent vote taken by the cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the diocese explained. They approved the information contained in the "positio," describing the life and holiness of Father Baker.
If the purported miracle attributed to Father Baker is approved, that would take him yet another step toward sainthood with the title "blessed" bestowed upon him.
That's what happened Friday morning at the Vatican for the late John Paul II. After the prefect of the congregation for saints presented findings for the deceased pontiff, Benedict approved them along with a number of other findings for individuals under consideration for Catholic sainthood, including Father Baker.
If Father Baker's first miracle is certified, then the congregation must approve a second miracle. At that point, he would be canonized a saint.
Once the diocese receives official notification of Friday's actions, Bishop Edward U. Kmiec and Monsignor Paul J.E. Burkard, pastor of Our Lady of Victory and promoter of Father Baker's cause for canonization, will make an official announcement at Our Lady of Victory Basilica on that development.
Details of parish and diocesan celebrations to mark "this important step in the canonization cause," diocesan spokesman Kevin A. Keenan said, also will be released at that time.
Kmiec also offered his praise for John Paul II's advancement.
"From the moment he appeared for the first time as Pope John Paul II on the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square in 1978 and said, 'Do not be afraid,' we had the sense we were witnessing the start of something extraordinary. What followed was a papacy of presence, witness and a call to holiness," the bishop said.
John Paul II, he said, worked "tirelessly to bring the 'good news' to all, focusing on moral values, reaching out to young people and working for peace."
In recalling that he had shared many moments with John Paul II, Kmiec said: "It was one of the great privileges and blessings to be a bishop, to have such personal contact with the holy father" being that they were both "sons of Poland."