For more information
about Father Nelson Baker, the "City of Charity" he built, his lasting legacy of caring and his Cause for Canonization, please visit ourladyofvictory.org.
A Brief History of “Father Baker’s”
Baker Victory Services traces its history of helping others back to the 1850s, when mass immigration began in the Western New York area. As industry flourished and the Erie Canal turned Buffalo into a prosperous “boomtown,” people from all over the world came to this vibrant city on Lake Erie. But as society settled down and took root, so did its challenges.
Within years, crime, disease, and poverty became rampant in the area, leading many children to be abandoned or left parentless. As the need to house these homeless children grew, a two-story orphanage was built by the Catholic Diocese in what was then known as Limestone Hill, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo.
Shortly after, St. John’s Protectory was built to address another social concern at the time — boys “inclined to truancy, disobedience, or willfulness.” By 1864, the problem of abandoned youths was so severe that the orphanage was expanded and a massive, four-story building replaced the old structure.
Although many individuals have contributed to the growth and success of the institutions that were to become Baker Victory Services, one name stands out. Father Nelson Baker took over as superintendent of the debt-ridden organization in 1882. Immediately, he placed his own fingerprint on the institutions, removing bars from the windows of the protectory and rebuilding rooms to reflect a more home-like atmosphere. “There are no ‘bad boys,’” was his answer to those that questioned the move and worried that these “bad children” would run amok through the community without security measures. Father Baker’s faith in his charges would be repaid tenfold.
In order to save the institutions from financial ruin, Father Baker emptied his personal savings (accrued from his younger days as a successful business owner) and formed the “Association of Our Lady of Victory,” a nationwide devotional club with membership fees of 25 cents per year. This ingenious idea caught on, and, in three years, the debts were paid in full and the institutions grew.
The next two decades brought enormous expansion to what had become known as the Our Lady of Victory (OLV) Institutions. The protectory was expanded in 1893 and, two years later, a gym, recreational hall, and a new school were added. During this time, news spread of thousands of infant bones found in area waterways. Father Baker was horrified by these grim discoveries and opened Our Lady of Victory Infant Home in 1906 to house and care for abandoned babies and their socially stigmatized, unwed (often teenage) mothers.
Before his death in 1936 at age 94, Father Baker added OLV Hospital (originally a Maternity Hospital to assist those in care at the Infant Home), the Working Boys’ and Girls’ Homes, and the OLV Basilica to his lengthy list of accomplishments.
By 1939, various social welfare agencies had begun to offer the same types of services pioneered by the OLV Institutions. And, as times changed, so, too, did these programs. The work done at the protectory evolved into Baker Hall, a residential program for adolescents with emotional and/or behavioral issues. The Infant Home continued to offer hope to abandoned infants and troubled young mothers, but while the Home’s mission was essentially the same, a new component was added in 1956 when its doors opened to individuals with severe developmental disabilities and intensive medical needs.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, more change came with the movement away from large, institutional environments to more home-like settings. The residents of Baker Hall moved from the protectory building to residential cottages located on Martin Road (a site previously used by the Institutions as farmland).
While the Infant Home, orphanage, and boys’ protectory no longer exist, Father Baker’s legacy of caring continues with more than 1,000 employees providing critical services for children, adults and families in need across the Western New York region.
Meeting the Changing Needs
Father Baker’s “City of Charity” never stayed the same for long. Father Baker was known to adapt and adopt programs to meet changing needs. This trend has continued as the agency has evolved.
In 1996, Father Baker’s programs formed what is known today as Baker Victory Services. The merged agency offers a variety of educational, outpatient and residential programs to thousands of needy individuals and families each year.
Society has changed much over time, and the needs of children, adults and families have increased. By striving to meet those needs, Baker Victory Services continues Father Baker’s legacy of caring.