Brother and Sister Are Vice-Postulators Seeking the Canonization of Two Western New Yorkers

An article in The Buffalo News on December 18, 2011 states that Monsignor Paul J. E. Burkard was thrust into unknown territory when he became the Pastor of Our Lady of Victory Basilica and President of Baker Victory Services, both in Lackawanna, New York. He was asked to succeed Monsignor Robert Wurtz upon his death in 2006 as the Vice-Postulator for the Cause for Canonization for then Servant of God Nelson Baker.

Coincidentally, Father Burkard’s sister, Sister Patricia Burkard, OSF, General Minister of the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Neumann Communities, is serving as the Vice-Postulator of Blessed Marianne Cope who was also the General Minister in Sister Burkard’s community in Syracuse, New York in the 1880’s. The two Burkards are undoubtedly the only brother and sister to be involved in promoting canonization efforts simultaneously.

Blessed Marianne Cope is remembered as the nun who worked with and then succeeded Father Damien who ministered to the lepers on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. Father Damien was canonized in 2009. Blessed Marianne is presently a step or two ahead of Father Nelson Baker in the canonization process, having been declared Blessed by Pope Benedict XIV in 2005. This declaration requires that one verified miracle be ruled affirmative by a Medical Commission in Rome and by Vatican theologians before further affirmation by Congregation officials. The Holy Father makes the final decision, which he did when he ruled that Sister Marianne Cope is to be called Blessed.

The latest news concerning Blessed Marianne Cope’s Cause is that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints found in favor of her cause for canonization on December 6, 2011 and recommended her to Pope Benedict XVI for declaration as a saint. Happily, Pope Benedict confirmed the recommendation and both Blessed Marianne Cope and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, another New York State resident, will be canonized at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome sometime in the year 2012.

As for Father Baker, Pope Benedict acknowledged by decree on January 14, 2011 that Father Baker lived a life of heroic virtue and can now be honored with the title of Venerable Nelson Baker.

The good news is that Bishop Edward Kmiec of Buffalo learned while visiting the Vatican in November that a panel of physicians has determined that a cure attributed to Father Baker’s intercession could not be explained in medical terms. The cause must be passed before two more panels before it reaches the Pope for his final decision as to whether Father Baker will be declared Blessed. Since the process takes a long and winding road, Father Burkard does not foresee that the end will come soon. However, a second purported miracle, submitted three years ago, is in the pipeline but it cannot be looked at simultaneously with the current miracle being examined. It must wait until Father Baker is declared Blessed before it can be considered. Perhaps Father Baker will become a canonized saint sooner than expected.

This is certainly an exciting time in the church in western New York as Catholics await the good news that we have had saints walking in our midst in an area where the church has flourished over the past 150 years or more.


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