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Unknown Stories of WNY: The building of the Basilica

Why many consider it one of Father Baker's miracles

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo and Western New York are known for many things, not the least of which is our architecture. It is a big part of our history that keeps people coming here today. 

One well-known landmark is celebrating its centennial. But what a lot of people may not realize is how miraculous it was that The Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica was even built. 

OLV Pastor Rev. Msgr. David LiPuma says Father Nelson Baker was able to start with nothing, and rally people around the country to make his shrine a reality. 

"This is the crowning gem of the city of charity that he built," LiPuma said. "All the people they took care of, all the children, all the orphans, everything he did he said 'she did,' and he would point to the statue of Our Lady of Victory. Throughout his priestly life he wanted to always at some point to build a shrine in her honor."

Baker always put his trust and faith in her. As a new priest he was able to wipe out the young parish's debt through a direct mail campaign. Three decades later, after a fire badly damaged St. Patrick's Parish Church, he went to work to turn his ultimate dream, a reality. 

"At the age of 79, without a penny he began this magnificent building," LiPuma said.

Father Baker turned to those same donors he had appealed to through the mail, and contributions came in from coast to coast. 

"And that's how we paid for everything, as they started at a quarter," LiPuma said. "He said for a quarter you can join Our Lady of Victory association you remembered at all our masses, novenas and prayers here at the shrine and he'll take care of our babies and so forth, and the money started coming in."

Rev. LiPuma says Baker then added a new twist as construction began on the new church in 1921. 

"He asked everybody locally and across the country for  $10 to buy a block of marble to help build the basilica," he said. "It took him five years. It was dedicated in 1926 in May. And When he went to Bishop Turner to ask for the date for the consecration, Bishop Turner kind of laughed at him, basically saying Nelson, you do you know you have to have it paid for in order to have a dedication. He said is it at all paid for." 

Amazingly, Father Baker was able to raise all the money, between $3.2 million and $3.8 million.

"So when you think about having nothing to begin with and having to pay for the end and you walk through this thinking that two months later it became a basilica, that's a miracle," he said.

Today, this amazing house of worship stands as a shrine to Our Lady of Victory, but also a tribute to Father Baker's determination and faith.