Niagara Gazette

Communities

January 25, 2014

Father Baker sainthood effort costs mount

Niagara Gazette — LACKAWANNA — The 25-year effort to elevate to sainthood a beloved Buffalo-area priest known as the "Padre of the Poor" has so far cost upward of $100,000, and plans are in the works to raise hundreds of thousands more.

Even the most fervent supporters of the Rev. Nelson Baker acknowledge it's an amount that probably would have made the humble servant of the needy uncomfortable.

But such canonization expenses are not unusual in the Roman Catholic Church, experts say, and are gaining new attention in the "poor church for the poor" envisioned by Pope Francis.

Monsignor Paul Burkard is shepherding efforts to bank an additional $250,000 for anticipated ceremonies and other future expenses. He believes the outlays so far for lawyers, printing, research and travel has been well spent, even in a former steel city diocese that is closing struggling schools and churches.

"I think Father Baker would probably be embarrassed that anybody would spend that much time or money to showcase him," Burkard said. "But in the long run, it actually helps the poor because more publicity about Father Baker means more people know about him and contribute to our charitable works here."

Burkard said the ongoing attention to Baker, who died in 1936 at 95, has already helped the social services agencies that continue to operate here in his name, drawing donations from all over the country and beyond. He said the Baker Victory Services' dental clinic alone provided more than 21,000 procedures last year, many for disabled children.

But canonization is an arduous, expensive process that has tended to favor larger religious orders that have the resources and know-how to navigate it.

It's something the Vatican seems to be acknowledging with a new, undisclosed "reference" price, announced this month, which those officially guiding causes will have to abide by. Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the Vatican's saint-making office, said it is intended to inspire "a sense of simplicity and fairness."

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