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Parish seeks money to fund Father Baker’s push for sainthood

The bid to have Father Nelson H. Baker become a Catholic saint won’t come cheap, and the local parish pushing for his canonization has started appealing for financial aid to make it a reality.

Our Lady of Victory Basilica is seeking $250,000 to help cover costs associated with the pursuit of sainthood for the revered Lackawanna priest, who was known as “Padre of the Poor” for his broad charitable work.

And while parishioners and friends of the parish are expected to make the bulk of those contributions, a recent grant from the Foundation for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has expanded the appeal to Catholics throughout Western New York.

The $25,000 grant from the foundation comes with the stipulation that Our Lady of Victory raises an additional $25,000 on its own to receive the grant money.

“The foundation serves to help support Catholic efforts within the Diocese of Buffalo, and we felt that sainthood of Nelson Baker would really help people identify with their Catholic roots and remain loyal as practicing Catholics,” said Richard C. Suchan, executive director of the foundation.

A canonization effort has been under way since 1987, and it reached a new level at the Vatican in 2011, when Baker was elevated to “venerable” status.

Only a Vatican-certified miracle now separates him from beatification, with the title of “blessed.” A second miracle would propel him to sainthood.

Nonetheless, aside from the occasional Pope John Paul II, most candidates’ paths to sainthood take decades, and the costs associated with what is known as “promoting the cause” can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There are legal fees and travel expenses and honorariums for doctors studying miracle cases, as well as the costs of translators, printing and the beatification and canonization ceremonies.

The average annual cost for the Baker cause is around $40,000 to $45,000, said Monsignor Paul J.E. Burkard, pastor of OLV.

Most of that is to retain a canon lawyer who serves in Rome as “postulator” – preparing and submitting all of the required documentation needed by various Vatican committees studying a candidate for sainthood.

OLV parish has actively solicited parishioners and friends to make donations as part of a capital campaign to raise $2 million. The parish so far has raised $1.5 million.

Most of the $2 million will be used for renovations and repairs to 16 stained-glass windows in the basilica’s large dome, as well as plaster work inside the dome – all slated to begin in September 2014.

And $250,000 of the capital campaign was being set aside for Baker’s canonization.

A potential miracle in 2001 as a result of Baker’s intercession is currently being considered at the Vatican.

Burkard declined to elaborate on the recipient of the possible miracle. He wouldn’t reveal whether it is a man or woman or the person’s age or medical condition.

“No. No. No. Sorry about that,” he said.

Burkard said everyone involved in the process takes an oath of secrecy.

“It’s trying to keep the pressure off everyone involved in it until there’s a final determination,” he said.

The case was first presented to the Vatican in 2006. A panel of Italian physicians determined in 2011 that a cure in the case could not be explained in medical terms, then forwarded it to a second panel of seven doctors for further review.

That panel, which is examining some 1,100 pages of technical medical information, occasionally has made inquiries with doctors in the U.S. who are familiar with the case, said Burkard.

“It’s the technical filling-in of the information they need,” he said.

Burkard speculated that the process might have slowed somewhat because of intense focus at the Vatican on highly publicized canonization efforts for two popes, Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II.

“A lot of the energy of those people has to go into that,” he said.

But Burkard said he doesn’t know for certain where things stand.

“They don’t really give you a progress report. I’m hoping that we’re moving to a conclusion on this pretty quickly,” he said.