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The Father baker story - the early years

Nelson Henry Baker was born on February 16, 1842. He was the second of four sons (Lewis P., Nelson, Andrew and Ransom) born to Lewis and Caroline (Donnellan).  At birth, Father Baker was baptized in the Lutheran faith, the faith of his father.  When Nelson was 10 years old, under the spiritual influence of his devout Catholic mother, he was rebaptized in the Catholic Church.  As a child, Nelson loved to accompany his mother to Mass.
The family lived in the small, but growing, city of Buffalo, New York. Lewis Baker was a retired mariner who took advantage of the increased commerce that the opening of the Erie Canal brought to the Great Lakes region and became the proprietor of a grocery and general store in Buffalo's downtown. As was customary in those days, the family lived behind the store.
While there is not a lot of official documentation that exists from Nelson's childhood, it seems to have been a happy time for him. After graduating from high school, Nelson joined his father and older brother working in the store. He was bright, good with figures, outgoing,and with a wide range of interests. His future looked promising. Then the American Civil War broke out.

The Civil War

In June 1863, General Robert E. Lee and his Confederate army had moved into southern Pennsylvania. Fearful that the enemy would soon reach New York, the state called for 20,000 new recruits. On the evening of Nelson's enlistment, he and his fellow recruits were sworn in and boarded the train for Harrisburg, Pa. Nelson's regiment, the 74th New York, served with bravery and distinction there, protecting bridges and an aqueduct as the Confederate troops were forced to retreat.
The term of enlistment was only 30 days and the men of the 74th were expected to return to Buffalo in mid-July, but a dire emergency arose in New York City when rioting mobs began to cause havoc. Nelson and his comrades spent two days there, and, together with several other companies of the state militia, were successful in quelling the riots. On July 21, 1863, the members of the 74th Regiment returned to Buffalo.
Once home, Nelson settled into his old routine, working in his father's store. Around that time, his friend Joe Meyer approached him with a proposal. Joe wanted to open a feed and grain business with Nelson to take advantage of Buffalo's booming economy. Nelson accepted, and Meyer and Baker, a profitable and successfully endeavor for many years, was born.

Thoughts of a Vocation

During the years that Nelson ran the business with Joe, he was most generous with his time and money to a local Catholic orphanage. He felt that God had been so good to his family and himself that he wanted to give back. Becoming a priest had crossed his mind from time to time, but he was getting older now, and he knew that he had not had the proper schooling to prepare himself for the seminary. Each time the yearning came over him, he dismissed it — but not entirely.
One day as Nelson was returning from a buying trip, he came upon two boys carrying a heavy sack. He stopped his horse and wagon and asked them where they were headed. Their answer: "Limestone Hill, St. Joseph's Orphanage." Nelson agreed to bring the boys to their home and, while there, he stopped to see Father Hines, the administrator, with whom he was well acquainted. One thing led to another, and, before the visit ended, Father Hines promised to recommend Nelson to the Bishop for admission to the diocesan seminary.
For the next year, Nelson worked furiously - helping Joe at the store all day and studying Latin at night. By June, 1869, he was exhausted and ill. To get some needed rest, he embarked upon a steamer excursion around the Great Lakes. At every stop, he earnestly prayed and meditated on the question of his vocation.
When he returned to Buffalo, his mind was clear. The first person to hear the news was his mother, who confessed that she had prayed secretly for years that he would become a priest.
Joe Meyer was devastated at losing his partner, but Nelson, showing the resourcefulness that would serve him so well in his priestly life, already had a solution to that problem: his younger brother, Ransom, took over. So it was that on September 2, 1869, Nelson Baker ended one chapter of his life to begin a second one in service to Our Lord.

Seminary Life

Although he was almost 10 years older than most of his fellow seminarians at Our Lady of the Angels Seminary in Buffalo, the future Father Baker fit in admirably with his classmates. He assumed a leadership role from the start and academically excelled, achieving high grades in most of his studies.
In November, 1871, Nelson became gravely ill. So much so that he received Extreme Unction and was expected to die. After nearly a full year of being sick, he was able to recover. Better yet, he was accepted into the major seminary and told to "get his cassock and report to the seminary the first Wednesday in September."

A Turning Point

Early in the year 1874, Nelson read about a pilgrimage to some of the great Catholic shrines of Europe. He approached the seminary rector with the possibility of going at his own expense as the representative of his seminary. Permission was granted and Nelson left in May.
One of the several shrines on the agenda of the pilgrims was that of Our Lady of Victories in Paris. There, Nelson felt a special tug on his heart during Mass. Although the pilgrims later visited Lourdes, the tombs of the Apostles in Rome, St. Peter's and the Holy Father in Rome, his mind kept returning to the wonderful shrine in Paris and the possibility of honoring Our Lady in the same way in America.
When he returned home in July 1874, Nelson continued his studies at the seminary. In March of 1876, he was ordained to the diaconate. Soon thereafter, Nelson Baker became a priest of God on March 19, 1876 — the feast of St. Joseph — at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Buffalo.