Father Baker's Church
I was born in Our Lady of Victory Hospital, just across the street from the magnificent Basilica of Our Lady of Victory, in Lackawanna, New York. I am not really clear on what theological nuances separate a Basilica from an ordinary church, or an even grander Cathedral. But this magnificent church matches up well with all of the many Cathedrals that we have seen in our travels. And although I have lived within walking distance of it, for most of my life and even entered the church once or twice for a looksee, I have never really appreciated this ornate, byzantine masterpiece for the architectural splendor that it represents.
Within its quiet precincts, one sits and ponders the mysteries of our Catholic Faith, represented by the statuary and imagery all around us. The gilt-edged murals along the walls, glitter in the flickering lights of the votive candles. The ornate carvings, of the stations of the cross, bring back parables and stories of the grand passion of Christ, taught with ardent intensity by the goodly Nuns of the Sisters of Mercy, with whom I was interred for eight years of early schooling.
The statuary, of Mary and the saints, are also old familiars. From each marble engraving erupts a wellspring of memories from religious classrooms and masses from long ago. The colored glass, from the windows high along the walls above, sparkles the sunlight as if through an ethereal prism. It isn’t hard to be spiritual or ponder the hereafter in these magical precincts. The venue lends itself to the supernatural.
I know that busloads of supplicants come here daily, in search of a miniature Lourdes, hoping to bask in the magic of Father Baker. Saint or not, the man cast a spell of goodness that many, many thousands of the faithful benefited from in his nearby orphanage, hospital and schools. He was a visionary of biblical proportions who enriched the well-being of many thousands of working people in the area. Perhaps it is the legend of the man that gives the building its true magic. Even though generations of us were terrified by scolding parents of “being sent to Father Baker’s,” if we did not behave. The gentility, goodness and decency of the man outshines the stone memorial. And I think that is what gives the Basilica it ethereal majesty. From the movie “Field of Dreams” comes the saying “if you build it, they will come.” Father Baker did build it. And the faithful did and are still coming.
It is the rare mortal that can embody and enliven an entire philosophy of caring for one another and practicing the lessons, that we were taught by the Nazarene, in his Sermon on the Mount. But this humble soldier of Christ managed it with a dignity of purpose that even today inspires us in thought and action. May the celestial roads rise up to meet you good Father Baker and the heavenly winds be always at your back.
Joseph Xavier Martin