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Posted on Feb 21, 2014 |

Venerable Baraga has Cincinnati Ties

Venerable Baraga has Cincinnati Ties

A statue of Bishop Baraga at a Michigan shrine shows him holding a cross in one hand, symbolizing his missionary work with Indian tribes, and the snowshoes that made him famous in the other.

REPOSTED from May 14, 2012

Born in a Slovenian castle to wealth and privilege, Fr. Frederic Baraga dedicated his life to his passion to convert and serve Indians in a young country across the ocean. Last Thursday the famous “snowshoe priest,” later the first Bishop of Marquette, was declared “Venerable” — a step on the official road to being named a saint.

Before he went north to serve the Chippewa and Ottowa tribes, the Venerable Baraga spent a year in Cincinnati. Fluent in German and English, as well as several other languages, he worked with German immigrants for Bishop Fenwick in 1831 while learning Indian languages, and Cincinnati’s bishop (himself no stranger to long voyages and rough travel) accompanied him 800 miles north to begin the Slovenian priest’s missionary work by baptizing and confirming Indian converts in Michigan.

Fr. Baraga worked tirelessly for years with the Ottowa, eventually moving further north to work with the Chippawa/Ojibway. For many years he was the only Catholic priest in the region, and so he also served many European immigrants who spoke German, French, and English. He earned his nickname by traveling most of the year, often on foot, using snowshoes when necessary.

In 1853 he was named the first Bishop of Marquette and returned to Cincinnati for his episcopal ordination — his last trip to the Queen City. His new See included the northern peninsula of Michigan, much of its southern section, parts of northern Wisconsin, and the North Shore of Lake Superior. Bishop Baraga spent most of the remainder of his life traveling the vast and rough terrain of the diocese. In 1866, at the Council of Baltimore, he suffered a severe stroke. According to the web site of the Cause for his sainthood, he begged the younger priest with him to take him back to Marquette before the other bishops could refuse to let him go. He died in 1968 on the Feast of the Holy Name (January 19). Despite a terrible snow storm, people stood outside the cathedral for hours during his funeral.

A man of great stamina and faith, Bishop Baraga was also a formidable scholar whose works are major additions to linguistics and literature. He wrote the first Chippewa grammar and dictionary (still in use today), and is known for his extensive work translating Scripture and hymns into the Chippewa and Ottowa languages — as well composing numerous Chippewa devotional works, and several books and prayer books in Slovenian.

“I am thrilled beyond words at this recognition of Bishop Baraga’s heroic virtue by the universal Church,” said Bishop Alexander K. Sample, in the Diocese of Marquette’s official announcement May 10th. “I cannot overstate what a significant step this is towards the anticipated beatification and canonization of Bishop Baraga. This is a day for which we have been waiting nearly 40 years. I am so pleased to be able to call my saintly predecessor ‘Venerable’ Frederic Baraga!”

Being declared a saint is a slow process. Though Bishop Baraga was widely considered a saint at the time of his death, this was true only among people who knew him. By 1930, reputation of his sanctity had grown enough for a group dedicated to his memory (the Bishop Baraga Association & Archives) to form, and in 1952 the “Cause” (or formal case) for his being named a saint was begun. The results of the investigation into more than 62 miracles claimed to have occurred over the years since his death were sent to Rome over several decades. After reviewing the Cause, Rome has now found him worthy of veneration — hence, the term “venerable.” This finding doesn’t mean that any of the miracles have been confirmed; it means that his life and character have been thoroughly investigated. If one of the miracles is confirmed, he will be named “Blessed.” Two confirmed miracles will mean that he is canonized, or declared a saint.

All Catholics are now permitted to pray for Bishop Baraga’s intercession, and by canon law his remains must be made available to anyone wishing to venerate them. Bishop Sample says the diocese is planning a new chapel at Marquette’s Cathedral for the remains of the Venerable Bishop Frederic Baraga. Until then, anyone may visit his tomb beneath the cathedral.

“Bishop Baraga — the Snowshoe Priest — was a remarkable man who loved God, gave his life to God in priesthood, and made extraordinary demands on himself to share God’s love particularly with the Native Americans in this country,” says Archbishop Dennis Schnurr. “During his lifetime, Father Baraga visited and ministered to the Native Americans in what is now the Diocese of Duluth where the Native Americans still revere him, along with anyone who has taken the time to study his holy and heroic life.  Having been miraculously save from death on Lake Superior, Father Baraga erected a cross on shore as a prayer of thanksgiving.  The original wood cross has been replaced with a granite cross, but the site is still a place of pilgrimage in Northeast Minnesota.  For me, it comes as no surprise that the Church has declared Bishop Baraga to be ‘venerable.’ for those who are familiar with his life do indeed venerate him.”

Listen to a podcast from the Diocese of Marquette here; see the official site for his Cause here.

Bishop Baraga, whose extensive travels in all weather prematurely aged him, photographed in a style reminiscent of American Indian photos of the time.