Building a basilica

Tragedy had struck. In 1916, a fire had ripped through St. Patrick’s Church completely destroying the spire and damaging the assembly area. While the parishioners were beside themselves with fear and worry, the pastor was encouraging and optimistic. He pleaded with his flock to have faith that a better tomorrow was coming.

He had something in mind.

At a parish council meeting not too long after, Father Baker unveiled the boldest of plans to build a beautiful shrine to rival the great churches of Europe. Speaking before an astonished crowd, the humble priest, who was 75 years old at the time, outlined his plan for the creation of a masterpiece, a fitting tribute in honor of his patroness, Our Lady of Victory.

On May 7, 1921, Father Baker celebrated the last Mass at St. Patrick’s Church which was then dismantled.

Knowing he had not set aside any money for the new shrine’s construction, Father Baker sent out a call for help to his large — and loyal — band of donors, friends and benefactors. He called for supporters to “Buy a Block of Marble” for just $10 and, as with many of the fundraising projects taken on by the business-savvy priest, contributions began to stream in.

All along, it was Father Baker’s vision to build a house of worship “that will in beauty, loveliness and grandeur, be worthy to be consecrated to the Mother of God.” To help him accomplish that, he reached out to one of the best: architect Emile Uhlrich, a graduate of the Ècole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and an emigree to the United States in 1894. 

The finest materials were sourced from around the world and an international team of craftsmen joined those in Buffalo to make Father Baker’s ambitious dream come true.

By Christmas of 1925, construction of the great Shrine to Our Lady of Victory had not only been completed, but was entirely paid for.

On May 25, 1926, a special ceremony took place. Attended by thousands of clergy, local dignitaries, and well-wishers, the Mass of Consecration was presided over by Father Baker, Most Rev. William Turner and Cardinal Patrick Hayes.

Within two months, Our Lady of Victory National Shrine was officially designated a Minor Basilica via decree from Pope Pius XI. At the time, it was only the second Minor Basilica in the United States (the first was the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, Minn.).

And so Father Baker’s greatest dream had been realized. The gift, a symbol of his devotion to the Blessed Mother, had been given.