Father Nelson Baker's path to sainthood is a joy for all who know about him, and so much more for those who remember meeting him. I am one of the fortunate who remembers. He was the first priest I ever knew. I have loved and prayed for him these past 75 years since his death on July 29, 1936. I was taken to his funeral, and I treasure his memorial card.
While he was small in size, he was larger than life. As we wait for the needed miracle for his journey to sainthood, I read every word written about him. If he had a voice, though, he would be the first to give equal credit to the legions of Sisters of St. Joseph who enabled him to accomplish so much. So many of these sisters deserve some recognition. At least they should not be entirely left out of the Father Baker legacy.
My mother's aunt was a Sister of St. Joseph, Sister M. Martina. She worked in Lackawanna with her dear friend, Sister M. Marceline. At least once a month, our family drove out to visit the sisters and Father Baker. He would rush to meet our car, open the door for us and lift me high over his head to my delightful squeal.
He would greet my parents and always praise my mother, who had five children by the age of 25. I was led to believe at an early age that babies came from Father Baker's and that if I wasn't a good girl, I would be returned. I knew about the spanking machines and actually believed I had seen them!
I often told Father Baker I wanted another brother, because we had four girls and just one boy. His reply was always, "We will talk to God about that." He would take my family to a small parlor, where he would serve my parents coffee and me a glass of milk. He would stand me on a bench and listen as I recited my prayers. He would clap and compliment my mother. He always had a piece of hard candy for the trip home.
When we left the parlor, so that we could move faster, Dad would carry my baby sister and Father Baker would carry me. With a large ring of keys, he would open doors and we would enter another building. It was during one of these shortcuts that I saw a long conveyer belt with wooden rollers and large shiny steel parts. I was told that these were the spanking machines.
Years later, I was taken into the cafeteria of Buffalo State College because one of the cafeteria ladies wanted to show me a label and I exclaimed, "Oh, my God. You have spanking machines here!" How she laughed when I told her I had seen them as a child at Father Baker's. It was the dishwashing system and steam sterilizers.
My favorite part of our frequent visits was to see Sister Martina and Sister Marceline, but I will remember forever the room of infants getting their bottles from loving Sisters of St. Joseph, rocking away as they fed the babies. The little ones who were able to walk were playing in other rooms with window partitions for visitors to observe and loving sisters watching over them.
As the world comes to know, praise and thank God for Father Baker and his accomplishments, we must include the Sisters of St. Joseph, too, for they provided the love and hard work that brought success to Father Baker.
Marian Gray, a retired reading professor who lives in Clarence, shares her memories of Father Baker.