- Servant of God Frederic Irenej Baraga, Slovene American, first bishop of Marquette (1797-1868).
First Bishop of Marquette, Michigan, U.S.A., b. 29 June, 1797, at Malavas, in the parish of Dobernice in the Austrian Dukedom of Carniola [present-day Slovenia — Ed.]; d. at Marquette, Mich., 19 January, 1868. He was baptized on the very day of his birth, in the parish church of Dobernice, by the names of Irenaeus Frederic, the first of which, however, he never used, retaining only the second. His parents, Johann Nepomuc Baraga and Maria Katharine Josefa (nee de Jencic), had five children, of whom Frederic was the fourth. His father was not rich, but his mother inherited after her father's death the estate of Malavas, besides a vast fortune. They were God-fearing and pious, and strove, while they survived, to give a good education to their children. His mother died in 1808, and his father in 1812, and Frederic spent his boyhood in the house of Dr. George Dolinar, a layman, professor in the diocesan clerical seminary at Laibach.
In 1816 young Frederic Baraga entered the University of Vienna, studied law, and graduated in 1821, but soon turned his thoughts to the clerical state, and entered the seminary of Laibach that same year. He was ordained priest 21 September, 1823, at Laibach, and laboured with great zeal and spiritual success as assistant in St. Martin's parish, near Krainberg, and at Metlika, in Lower Carniola. On the 29th of October, 1830, he left his native land for the United States to spend the rest of his life in the Indian missionary field. After a journey of two months, he landed in New York on the 31st of December, 1830. He then proceeded to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he arrived 18 January, 1831. He was most kindly received by the Rt. Rev. Edward Fenwick, Bishop of Cincinnati, and during the winter and spring months laboured among the German Catholics of that city and elsewhere. On the 28th of May, 1831, he arrived at Arbre Croche, now Harbor Springs, his first Indian mission. There he laboured with apostolic zeal at the conversion of the Ottawas during two years and four months, during which time he baptized 547 Indian adults and children. He was succeeded in 1833 by Rev. F. Saenderl, Superior of the Redemptorists in the United States. On or about the 8th of September, 1833, Baraga left Arbre Croche to found a new Indian mission at Grand River, Mich. He arrived at his destination (now Grand Rapids, Mich.) on the 23d of September. He immediately began the building of a combination church, school, and pastoral residence, which was very poor, owing to the deficiency of funds. There he laboured most earnestly, though not as successfully as at Arbre Croche, until February, 1835, when he was succeeded by Father Andrew Viszoczky, a Hungarian priest. Baraga himself estimated the number of his converts at about two hundred, but Bishop Rese estimated the number of Indian converts in his diocese in 1834 at three thousand, with twelve churches or chapels.
Baraga's next Indian mission was among the Chippewas at La Pointe, Wisconsin, where he arrived 27 July, 1835. There he laboured successfully for about eight years, baptizing 981 Indians and whites. In 1843 he founded the L'Anse Indian mission in Michigan, arriving there on the 24th of October. For ten years he laboured in this vast mission, being for many years the only Catholic priest in Upper Michigan. He attended not only to the Indians, but also to the whites of the vast territory, as the discovery of iron and copper drew many German, French, and English-speaking Catholics to the Northern Peninsula of Michigan. Truly incredible are the hardships and labours of Baraga at this period of his life. On the 29th of July, 1853, the Northern Peninsula of Michigan was detached from the Diocese of Detroit and erected into a vicariate Apostolic, and Baraga was appointed its first bishop. He was consecrated in the cathedral of Cincinnati by Archbishop Purcell, Bishop LeFevre of Detroit and Bishop Henni of Milwaukee officiating as assistant consecrators. Shortly after his elevation to the episcopal dignity Bishop Baraga issued two circulars to his people, one in Chippewa and the other in English. His jurisdiction extended not only to the whole Northern Peninsula of Michigan, but also to a large part of the Lower Peninsula, to Northern Wisconsin, and to the North Shore of Lake Superior. He laboured in this vast extent of territory for fifteen years, travelling almost incessantly, from the opening to the close of navigation year after year. On the 23d of October, 1865, by Apostolic authority he transferred his See from Sault Ste. Marie to Marquette, where he died at the age of seventy years.
Bishop Baraga will always rank with the foremost authors in American Indian literature. He composed the first known Chippewa grammar. This was a truly Herculean task, for he had to establish after long and close observation and deep study all the rules of the Chippewa grammar. This grammar has gone through three editions. In his preface to his Chippewa dictionary, printed in preface to his Chippewa dictionary, printed in Cincinnati, O., in 1853, by Jos. A. Hermann, he says: "This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first Dictionary of the Otchipwe language ever published. The compilation of it has cost me several years of assiduous labour." This dictionary has also passed through several editions. Both grammar and dictionary are most highly prized and constantly used by Indian missionaries and others. His Indian prayer book and works of instruction are much read by both Indians and their pastors. Baraga always wrote in a very simple and clear style. His writings are admirably adapted to the limited capacity of his Indian readers, and can be understood even by ignorant Indian children. His "Dusna Pasa", a prayer book in Slovenian, his own native language, passed through ten editions, the last, in 1905, with 84,000 copies. This alone is a proof of its great popularity and usefulness.
In addition to the "Theoretical and Practical Grammar of the Otchipwe [Chippewa] Language" (Detroit, 1850), the Chippewa dictionary, and the "Dusna Pasa" mentioned above, the published works of Bishop Baraga include: "Veneration and Imitation of the Blessed Mother of God", in Slovenian (1830); "Animie-Misinaigan", an Ottawa prayer book; "Jesus o Bimadisiwim" (The Life of Jesus), in Ottawa (Paris, 1837); "On the manners and customs of the Indians" in Slovenian (Laibach, 1837); "Gagikwe-Masiniagan", a sermon-book, in Chippewa (1839 and 1859); "Zlata Jabelka" — "Golden Apples" (Laibach, 1844); "Kagige Debwewinan" — "Eternal Truths"; "Nanagatawendamo-Masinaigan" — Instructions on the Commandments and sacraments.
No Indian missionary of modern times was more beloved and revered by both Indians and whites than Baraga. He loved his Indians with a warm-hearted devotion which they reciprocated. Men of all positions in society, Catholics and non-Catholics, revered him as an ideal man, Christian, and bishop. Michigan has named after him one of her counties, several towns, and post offices, and his name has been given to one of the principal streets of Marquette. In his native country he is, if possible, even more popular than in America. His life, published in Slovenian, in 1906, has already (1907) reached a sale of 85,000 copies. That life might be summed up in the one phrase: Saintliness in action.
The Snowshoe Priest
Shrine of Bishop Baraga
First Bishop of the Upper Peninsula
"The Snowshoe Priest"
Frederick Baraga left his home in Slovenia in 1830 for the Catholic missions of the Upper Great Lakes. Father Baraga's intention was to minister to the native peoples of the region. In the process he founded five missions along the south shore of Lake Superior and created a legend.
The last of his missions was sited in the village of L'Anse which had been the site of an earlier Jesuit mission founded in the late 1600's. He remained in L'Anse from 1843 and was consecrated as the first Bishop of the Upper Peninsula in 1853.
Much been written about this priest who left an upper class European existence for the hardships of the northwoods. Stories of his endurance in overland treks to reach members of his flock are at times difficult to credit, yet the records attest to both his strength of will and physical stamina.
His title as the Snowshoe Priest" came from the necessity of long treks overland in the winter months to serve his far flung churches that served both the native population and the small communities of copper miners on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Even after he became a Bishop, Baraga continued his circuit covering distances of more than 60 miles. Bishop Baraga was known to travel over 700 miles in winter serving his churches.
Father Baraga had these comments about his work among the L'Anse Chippewa: "I have few comforts here, often times barely the necessities of life. But what consolation, what grand reward, what unspeakable joy will it be for me on the day of judgment, some or hopefully all of these my good children may surround me and give me testimony before our final judge".
Baraga learned to speak the native languages fluently and developed their written language. His Chippewa grammar and dictionary are still used today. In 1832, his first Indian Prayer Book was printed in Detroit.
In 1853 he was elevated to Bishop, becoming the first Bishop in Upper Michigan. He continued his long treks to visit churches in his jurisdiction.
Rising six stories above the Red Rocks Bluff, the Shrine commands a breathtaking panoramic view of virgin hardwoods, scenic coastline and the oldest mountains, geologically, in the world. Flanking the southern side of the Bluff is the Lac Vieux Desert Trail, a gateway to the Mississippi Valley for Native Americans in the early 1830's.
Holding a cross (7 feet high) and snowshoes (26 feet long) the statute of Bishop Baraga is 35 feet tall and weighs four tons. It floats on a cloud of stainless steel supported by five laminated wood beams representing Baraga's five major missions.
The Shrine is a lovely spot to rest and get out of your car to stretch your legs. There is a well kept picnic area, restaurant, and gift shop on the site where you will find several fine books about Baraga and the early days of these Keweenaw Bay communities. You may also find yourself reflecting on the challenging conditions confronting this priest in his efforts to bring the Grace of God to the indigenous peoples of a wild and unforgiving land.
His triumph over adversity is still evident today in a county, a village, and a L'Anse street all named after Baraga, in the continuation of the Holy Name Church in Assinins, and in the Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest.
Although an average of 100,000 people visit this peaceful setting each year, donations cover only minimal upkeep of the grounds. Major maintenance of the shrine itself has been financed through bank loans and donations of labor.
The future of the Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest is unsure at best. The Bishop Baraga Foundation must increase its membership and income in order to maintain the Shrine properly.
If you would like to become a member of the Bishop Baraga Foundation, send a donation of $5 or more to BISHOP BARAGA FOUNDATION, INC
Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest
Baraga, Michigan 49908
There is a small shop with books, gifts, baked goods, ice cream, coffee, and snacks.