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The Venerable Frederic Irenaeus Baraga (Slovene: Friderik Irenej Baraga), was a Slovenian Roman Catholic missionary to the United States and a grammarian of Native American languages. He became the first bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Marquette, Michigan,[1] originally sited at Sault Sainte Marie, which he led for 15 years.

His letters about his missionary work were published widely in Europe, inspiring Saint John Neumann and Father Francis Xavier Pierz to immigrate to the United States.[2]

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Early life Edit

Baraga was born in the manor house at Mala Vas (German: Kleindorf) no. 16 near theCarniolan village of Dobrnič, in what was thenLower Carniola, a province of the Duchy of Carniola in the Habsburg Monarchy. Today it is a part of the municipality of Trebnje inSlovenia.[3]

Baraga grew up during the Napoleonic Wars, when France had taken over the Slovene Lands from the Austrian Empire for a time. As a result, the official language of instruction in his schools changed several times during his childhood between Slovenian and German. In addition, Latin and Greek were required subjects for all students. Thus, by age 16, Frederic Baraga was multilingual—a skill that would serve him well in later life.

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Priesthood Edit

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Bishop Baraga Shrine.

Baraga attended law school at the University of Vienna prior to entering seminary. At age 26, he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest on September 21, 1823 in the Cathedral of St. Nicholas by Augustin Johann Joseph Gruber, the Bishop of Ljubljana. As a young priest, he was a staunch opponent of Jansenism. During this time, he wrote a spiritual book inSlovene entitled Dušna Paša (Spiritual Sustenance).

In 1830 Baraga answered the request of Bishop Edward Fenwick of Cincinnati for priests to aid in ministering to his growing flock, which included a large amount of mission territory. A year later he was sent to the Ottawa Indian mission at Arbre Croche(present-day Cross Village, Michigan) to finish his mastery of the Ottawa language, which he had begun in Cincinnati. It is one of the Algonquian languages.

In 1837, he published Otawa Anamie-Misinaigan, the first book written in the Ottawa language, which included a Catholiccatechism and prayer book. After a brief stay at a mission in present-day Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1835 Baraga moved north to minister to the Ojibway (Chippewa) Indians atLa Pointe, Wisconsin, at a former Jesuitmission on Lake Superior.

In 1843 Baraga founded a mission at L'Anse, Michigan. During this time he earned the nickname “the Snowshoe Priest” because he would travel hundreds of miles each year onsnowshoes during the harsh winters.[4] He worked to protect the Indians from being forced to relocate, as well as publishing a dictionary and grammar of the Ojibway language. Although these works have important historical value, they are not recommended as basic resources for the language today.[5]

Through the texts Baraga published in his missionary years, the Slovenes learned about aspects of Native American culture and the United States.[6]

Bishop Edit

Baraga was elevated to bishop by Pope Pius IX and consecrated November 1, 1853, in Cincinnati at Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral[7] by Archbishop John Purcell. He was the first bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, now theDiocese of Marquette.[8]

On July 27, 1852 he began to keep a diary, written in several languages (primarily German, but with English, French, Slovene, Chippewa, Latin, and Italian interspersed), preserving accounts of his missionary travels and his relationship with his sister Amalia. During this time, the area experienced a population explosion, as European immigrants were attracted to work in the copper and iron mines developed nearHoughton, Ontonagon, and Marquette. This presented a challenge because he had few priests, and had to attend to the needs of immigrant miners and the Native Americans. Increased development and population encouraged the improvement of transportation on Lake Superior.

The only way to travel in winter was on snowshoes, which Baraga continued to do into his sixties. He was particularly challenged by the wide diversity of peoples in the region, which included the native inhabitants, ethnic French-Canadian settlers, and the new German and Irish immigrant miners.[4] Difficulties in recruiting staff arose because of many languages; while Baraga spoke eight languages fluently, he had trouble recruiting priests who could do the same.

Baraga traveled twice to Europe to raise money for his diocese. On one trip he was presented a jeweled cross and episcopal ring by the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. The bishop later sold these for his missions.

Baraga wrote numerous letters to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith describing his missionary activities. The Society published them widely as examples of its missions in North America, and they were instrumental in inspiring both Saint John Neumann and Father Francis Xavier Pierz to come to the United States to work. In time, Baraga became renowned throughout Europe for his work. In his last ten years, his health gradually declined; he became intermittently deaf and suffered a series of strokes. He died January 19, 1868 in Marquette, Michigan.[4]He is buried there in the crypt beneathCathedral of Saint Peter.[4]

Legacy and veneration Edit

Baraga was declared venerable by Pope Benedict XVI on May 10, 2012.[9] His cause was opened in 1952 by Thomas Lawrence Noa, the diocese's eighth bishop, and the formal canonization process began in 1973.[4]The diocese planned to relocate his remains to a more accessible new chapel for veneration in the upper portion of the cathedral.[4] At the time of his veneration, the Vatican was investigating a possible miracle for beatification.[4]

  • The village of BaragaBaraga Township, Baraga County, and Baraga State Park (all in Michigan) were named for him.
  • An Ontario Provincial Plaque is located on the grounds of Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church (Goulais Bay, Ontario), which was built by Baraga[10]
  • A memorial sculpture of him by Jack E. Anderson is located in L'Anse, Michigan (Bishop Baraga Shrine).
  • Bishop Baraga Catholic School was named for him in Iron Mountain, Michigan.
  • Bishop Baraga Catholic School was named for him in Cheboygan, Michigan.
  • In 1846, Baraga erected a wooden cross in Schroeder, Minnesota, at the mouth of theCross River, in thanks for his safe landing during a storm on Lake Superior. It has been replaced with a granite cross.
  • At the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a shrine in the church has been dedicated in his honor.[11]
  • On July 24, 2012, a bronze statue of Baraga was unveiled in Grand Rapids, to honor his efforts in 1833 to establish the first Catholic mission in that location.[12]
  • Baraga is the namesake of a network of six Catholic radio stations serving northern Michigan and is based at originating stationWTCK licensed to Charlevoix with its main studio located near the Cross in the WoodsCatholic Shrine in Indian River.

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