Sister Jane Muldoon’s routine for sorting through an expanding collection of Father Nelson H. Baker-related material begins with a simple question, directed at Western New York’s candidate for sainthood.
“I ask him, ‘What should I do today?’ And he tells me,” said Muldoon, a retired librarian now learning the ropes as archivist of the Father Baker archives at Our Lady of Victory Institutions in Lackawanna.
Those archives include more than two dozen filing cabinets filled with details about area residents for whom Father Baker provided care, hundreds of photographs, garments and vestments worn by the revered priest, and even some comic books depicting Father Baker as “Padre to the Poor.”
This week, Muldoon got to work categorizing an unusual new find of Father Baker memorabilia – a time capsule of newspapers, magazines and other material dating back to 1897.
Baker Victory Services employees cleaning out a storage area recently discovered the long-forgotten items inside a large cast-iron safe.
Several newspapers, including a Buffalo Evening News and a Catholic Union and Times from September 1897, were stuffed inside a small metal box, along with a pewter statue of Our Lady of Victory, a sepia photograph of a middle-aged Father Baker and several early copies of “The Victorian,” a magazine launched by Father Baker and published for national distribution until about 1975.
“We couldn’t believe how well-preserved these papers were,” said Sheila Walier, spokeswoman for Our Lady of Victory Institutions and Baker Victory Services.
Though no one is certain, Walier suspects the items were part of a time capsule that was sealed inside a cornerstone of the former Boys Protectory Building on Ridge Road. The building was built between 1896 and 1897.
When the building was demolished in 1961, the capsule likely was found and put in the old safe, located in a storage room across the street from the demolished site.
Walier also figures that Father Baker, who died in 1936 at 94, probably blessed all of the items before they were placed in the cornerstone.
The Vatican named Father Baker “venerable” in 2011 and is considering a potential miracle that would qualify the beloved Lackawanna priest for “blessed” status, a step leading to canonization.
The Father Nelson H. Baker Museum offers visitors a look at the life and times of Father Baker through displays, correspondence, photographs and other artifacts.