New York State In-depth

“Crown Jewel of the Shrines:” Basilica of Our Lady of Victory

LACKAWANNA, NY (WIVB) – For nearly 100 years, the Basilica of Our Lady of Victory has been a shining light in the city of Lackawanna.

This is the crown jewel of all the shrines in western New York, made possible by the vision of Father Nelson Baker.

“It is a tremendous, humbling gift, and I can tell you that, to follow in Father Baker’s footsteps, to come here every day and see what has accomplished his vision,” said Monsignor David Lipuma. “He wanted to do that; He wanted to build this crowning jewel and he succeeded.”

Monsignor David Lipuma is the parish priest of the OLV Basilica. He tells News 4 that Father Baker saw a similar shrine in France and prayed that he could build one here for the Buffalo Diocese.

“He wanted people to look up at the dome, which was then the second largest in the country after the capital,” said Monsignor Lipuma. “He wanted people to see a vision of heaven; There is more to life than this world and there is eternity of life and love and happiness that awaits us all. He wanted people to have a deep spiritual experience.”

It took five years to build the $3.5 million masterpiece in the 1920s, and Father Baker had donations paid for it when he opened the doors. Today it attracts visitors from all over the world.

“To this day people come from all over the world and everyone I speak to is just amazed every day,” said Monsignor Lipuma. “They say, ‘I’ve traveled Europe, I’ve traveled the world, and that competes with cathedrals, basilicas and churches around the world; it’s a gem.’”

“It’s a place where people can really connect with God, with our Blessed Mother, and really, it’s a place where people can come and say, ‘I feel at home here,'” said Monsignor Lipuma.

Three years after the beautiful basilicas opened, the Great Depression came and paralyzed our nation. Father Baker established a bread line and served 450,000 meals in three years.

Father Baker left quite a legacy in this town. He founded an orphanage where unmarried mothers could leave their babies. The boys were known as “Baker Boys” and raised. Known as the “Father of the Poor”, Father Baker cared for the downtrodden, sick, homeless and poor.

“He is a role model for us, an example for us of what trusting in God at all times can do,” said Monsignor Lipuma. “He never acknowledged anything. And whoever was before him never said no; he would always find a way to change people’s lives for the better.”

When the Vatican first began considering Father Baker for sainthood, it was the Baker Boys who removed his coffin from Holy Cross Cemetery and took him to the Basilica, where he rests in peace near a grotto containing a replica Our Lady of Lourdes is.

Today, OLV Ministries, with all its programs, is the sixth largest human services provider in western New York. It takes a special and gifted priest to oversee the shrine and all charitable programs.

“It’s very humbling. But like Father Baker, I could never do this if I did not believe and trust that God and our Blessed Mother would provide for us, and I pray to Father Baker for his intercession every day to help shepherd this and continue to direct it,” said Monsignor Lipuma. “There is a huge amount of people doing so much good work. That makes everything possible.”

Don Postles is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1993. See more of his work here.

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