HOLY CROSS CEMETERY
2900 South Park Avenue
Bella Morte Rating: 2 Tombstones
Established as a parish cemetery in 1849, Holy Cross became known as Bishop’s Cemetery in 1853 when Bishop John Timon purchased and consecrated 40 acres of farmland to expand the cemetery. At some point in history, that appellation once again gave way to the name Holy Cross which the cemetery bears to this day.
Holy Cross is the largest of the Catholic Cemeteries in the Diocese of Buffalo, New York. Among the faithful departed interred there are a number of priests buried in the aptly-named “Priest’s Plot,” a circular section of land around the chapel. Members of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity as well as Sisters of the Good Shepherd also lie at rest in sections of the cemetery specifically dedicated to their Religious Orders.
An often-visited section of the cemetery is the former gravesite of Father Nelson Baker. The area is marked with a stele featuring a relief of the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Victory. In it, the Virgin is depicted embracing the Christ Child as he stands atop a globe. The inscription below reads:
In Memory of
Beneath that are the names, birth and death dates of Father Baker as well as his parents, Lewis and Caroline Baker.
A large bronze plaque nearby reads:
Rt. Rev. Nelson H. Baker, V.G.
“Servant of God”
1841 – 1936
He welcomed the lowly, the orphan, the sick,
the unemployed, the homeless, the unwed mother,
the troubled youth. He was a champion of the
poor and a true advocate of justice. He filled
the hungry with good things, he offered food
for the body, he nourished those entrusted to
his care with Catholic teaching. Father Baker,
“Padre of the Poor,” accomplished his great
works of charity under the inspiration of Our
Lady of Victory.
At the age of 28, after fighting for the Union Army in the Civil war and running a successful feed and grain business with a friend for a few years, to the delight of his mother (a devout Catholic) and the consternation of his father (a German Evangelical Lutheran) Baker entered the seminary. He was ordained in 1876 and went on to establish an orphanage, a home for unwed mothers, a hospital, a nurses’ home, two schools and a home for working boys known as a protectory.
In addition to his great service to the poor and needy, Father Baker dedicated his life to the construction of the Basilica of Our Lady of Victory which stands beside the cemetery grounds.
Following his death in 1936, his body was buried at Holy Cross. Fifty-six years later in 1999, though, following Vatican promptings to permit the faithful access to his tomb more readily, Father Baker’s remains were removed from the cemetery and reinterred in a marble sarcophagus within the grotto shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes at the Basilica he founded. As the cause for his Canonization is already underway, the Vatican seems to have been wise in directing the relocation of Father Baker’s remains.
In May of 2012, an anonymous donor gifted Holy Cross Cemetery with a statue of Father Baker carved from the remains of a 100-year old Chinese Elm which had been downed during a storm in October, 2006. The statue has been installed at the front entrance to Holy Cross Cemetery.
Among the other monuments of note on the cemetery grounds is the Birge Factory Fire gravestone. On 17 December, 1880, eight young men between the ages of 12 and 19, as well as one 32 year-old firefighter, were overcome by smoke and flames in a fire at the Birge wallpaper factory. The stone marking their graves, worn with age and covered in lichen, is inscribed as follows:
M.H. Birge & Sons
in grateful memory
who in the performance of
fell victims to the fire
which destroyed their
Dec. 17, 1880
Although not overwhelmingly beautiful or interesting, an exploration of Holy Cross is in order when in the area. Make certain to include a tour of the Basilica of Our Lady of Victory next door to view Father Baker’s tomb as well as the museum on the lower level dedicated to his life, ministry and memory.