Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Postulant Mary Jane reflects on Venerable Bishop Frederic Baraga on this 90th anniversary of his death. Join us in asking his intercession and praying that his process of canonization continues to be fruitful.
Irenaeus Frederic Baraga was born in a castle in Slovenia on June 29, 1797. He was the fourth of five children born to Johann Nepomucene Baraga and Maria Katharine Josefa. Both his parents were very pious and faithful. By the time Frederic Baraga went to college at age twenty he knew four languages: German, French, Latin, and Greek. The ability to learn languages was a great help later in his life. In 1816, Frederic Baraga entered the University of Vienna, to study law. It was through the writings of Father Clement Hofbauer, and St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, that helped to stir the heart of Frederic and he felt the call to enter the seminary. He was ordained at the age of twenty six. In his parish in Austria he fought against the heresy of Jansenism. Because of feeling unwanted by his fellow clergy, Father Baraga answered the call to be a missionary.
After becoming accustomed with the Ottawa language, Frederic Baraga was sent to Arbre Croche (Cross Village) in Lower Michigan. Father Baraga composed a catechism and prayer book, the first in that language. He would also compose a grammar book and dictionary in that language, which took him twenty years to complete. Father Barga left Abre Croche in 1833. He had some success preaching to the Indians on Beaver Island on Lake Michigan. While there, it was advised that he would go to Grand River (Grand Rapids) where it was felt he would have a more attentive population. There he did have better success, and he baptized about two hundred converts. He also built a church and a school. Father Baraga then labored for about eight years in and around La Pointe. He suffered during the wintertime because his winter clothes were late in arriving. In frigid weather, Fr. Baraga would reach the Indians by way of a pair of snowshoes. After becoming accustomed to the snow shoes he used them for the rest of his missionary life. This earned him the nickname “the Snow Shoe priest” by the faithful.
Father Baraga’s next mission was to answer the call to minister to the Ojibwa people one hundred and eighty miles east in Upper Michigan, at L’Anse on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Fr. Baraga spent the next fifteen years of his life at this remote post. He not only ministered to the Indians but also the Catholic immigrant families. He completed a grammar book and dictionary in the Chippewa language, which was an essential aid for the missionaries who came after him. Fr. Baraga, through his years of being a missionary, learned three more languages: English, Ottawa, and Chippewa.
Fr, Baraga was elevated to the role of bishop by Pope Pius IX and consecrated November 1, 1853. He died January 19, 1868. His cause for sainthood was opened in 1952 by Thomas Lawrence Noa and he was declared venerable by Pope Benedict XVI on May 10, 2012.
Venerable Bishop Frederic Baraga has a special place in the heart of my family. My Mother told me that when we moved to the Upper Peninsula (I was four years old) it was after praying to Bishop Baraga asking for his guidance to know if it was the right choice. It turned out to be the right choice because we soon moved to Aura, a small community twelve miles outside of L’Anse, Michigan. My family over the years has helped out with keeping the grounds of the Bishop Baraga Holy Store well cared for, and I’ve worked two summers at the Holy Store. I always enjoyed talking with the visitors and hearing their stories of how they found their personal love for Bishop Baraga and the Upper Peninsula. I also prayed a novena to Venerable Bishop Baraga to help in a family matter and it was resolved after the novena was done.
It was amazing to hear for the first time the news that Bishop Baraga was declared Venerable. It’s always incredible to visit his tomb, which is now in a special place in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Marquette Michigan.
For myself it always a joy for me to read the life of Frederick Baraga and to see clearly how the Holy Spirit was working in his life. The people in the Upper Peninsula and around the world are fortunate to know the love of this saintly man.
Venerable Frederic Baraga, intercede for us, especially for generous young people, who are being called for service in our Church!