Bishop Baraga, the Snowshoe Priest

January 19, 2013

Bishop Baraga Shrine, L'Anse

Bishop Baraga Shrine, L’Anse, photo by RPM-Photo

Bishop Frederic Baraga passed away 145 years ago on January 18, 1868. He was born on June 29, 1797* in the castle of Mala vas in the Northwestern part of Slovenia, and for over half of the 71 years of his life Baraga covered a vast territory of over 80,000 square miles in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada. The history page at the campaign for sainthood of Bishop Baraga explains that:

Father Baraga arrived in the New World on December 31, 1830. For the next 37 years he travelled the length and breath of the Great Lakes area to minister to the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. His first mission (Arbre Croche, 1833-1835) was established along the shore of Lake Michigan at present day Harbor Springs to Cross Village. Fr. Baraga labored two years at Grand River (1833-1835) presently known as Grand Rapids, before moving his mission to LaPointe (1835-1843) and L’ Anse (1843-1853) on Lake Superior. During the summer months, Father Baraga traveled on foot and by canoe. During the winter months, he traveled on snowshoes thus giving him the titles of “Apostle of the Lakelands” and “Snowshoe Priest.” He wrote long and frequent accounts of his missionary activities including a three-volume diary. He also wrote seven Slovenian prayerbooks and authored 20 Native American books which inlcudes his monumental Grammar and Dictionary of the Chippewa Language , still in use today. He was the first bishop to write a pastoral letter in both the English and Chippewa languages.

From 1840 to his death, he ministered to the immigrants who came to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to work in the iron and copper mines of the region. About the same time, he began the practice of rising at 3 a.m. in the summer and 4 a.m. in the winter to spend three hours in prayer, which he continued until the end of his life. His responsibilities grew even greater when he was named bishop of the newly created Vicariate of the Upper Michigan. He was consecrated bishop in Cincinnati on November 1, 1853. The lack of priests and money weighed heavily on his heart. Due to his hard work and dedication, Bishop Baraga was able to report to the Holy See a year before his death that his diocese rested on a firm foundation, with enough priests and churches for the fast-growing area. Sault Ste. Marie was his See City until 1866, at which time he moved to Marquette-a more centrally located and accessible city by both ship and train. In the Fall of 1866 while attending the Council of Baltimore, Bishop Baraga suffered a severe stroke. Afraid that his fellow bishops would not allow his return to the severe climate and remote regions of Lake Superior, he begged the priest who accompanied him (Rev. Honoratus Bourion) to take him back to Marquette. Understanding his bishop wanted to die among his flock, Rev. Bourion practically carried Baraga to the train for the long trip back to Marquette.

There’s a lot more about Baraga there including an excellent tour of Baraga’s life in the Upper Peninsula that I imagine would make a great vacation.

You can have a look at Bishop Baraga right here and read more in the entry for the Venerable Frederic Irenaeus Baraga in Wikipedia where I found the link for an online version of Father Baraga’s 1853 Ojibwe Dictionary. Here’s the direct link to the dictionary. You can read more about the Baraga shrine at Roadside America.

View RPM’s photo on black and see more in his Mich-ellaneous slideshow.

*Coincidentally enough, that’s my birthday too!

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