He was considered to be the last living connection to Fr. Nelson Baker. John Phillips of South Buffalo, who died last week at the age of 95, lived his formative years at the orphanage founded and operated by Baker. Phillips' recollections have been used by advocates as they work to have Baker canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.
Msgr. Paul Burkhardt said Phillips "had a treasure trove of information on Father Baker and the institutions here" because he spent time with Baker for years after living at the orphanage.
He was "an assistant, kind of a gofer, for Father Baker for many, many years."
According to Burkhardt, Phillips praised the living conditions at the orphanage, saying that he "always felt bad for the people who WEREN'T inside the institution."
Phillips, who lived at the orphanage during the Depression, would intimate that the orphans "had it much better off on the inside of the institution during those time periods. And it's probably very true."
Burkhardt maintains Baker was a "pacesetter" when it came to caring for and educating vulnerable youths.
"A lot of the things that he put in place are still being used by social service agencies all throughout New York State," he said.
The push for canonization continues, a process that began almost three decades ago. Burkhardt expects to be traveling to Rome in the coming months to work through the many details involved in building a definitive case for sainthood.
The next step for "The Venerable Nelson Baker," as he is officially called by Vatican officials, is to be considered "Blessed." A miracle, Burkhardt, has been attributed to Baker, but for confirmation "it involves huge amounts of medical testimony and other testimony."
Though Catholic officials can be painfully deliberate in the cononization process, Burkhardt is undaunted.
"No doubt. Father Baker will be declared a saint someday in the church."