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Following is a series of questions and answers teaching the most important aspects of Bishop Baraga’s life and work. It was written by Servant Maria and is distributed as a leaflet to visitors at the Baraga Shrine in L’Anse.
Just Ask About Bishop Baraga
Who was Bishop Baraga?
Bishop Baraga was a great missionary among the Native Americans in the area which is now the state of Michigan. He was the first Bishop of the diocese of Marquette.
What was Baraga’s early life like?
Frederick Baraga was of noble birth, born in a castle in Slovenia on June 29, 1797. He was the fourth of five children but only the second to survive infancy. The only surviving son of his family, he inherited the family castle and lands at the age of 15 after both his parents had died. Giving all to his sisters, Frederick entered seminary for the diocese of Laibach in 1821 and was ordained at the age of 26.
How did Baraga become a missionary?
Although Fr. Baraga was very zealous and popular with the people as a young priest, he was limited in his ministry because of his fellow priests who were influenced by the heresy of Jansenism. Therefore, after seven years of serving in his native Slovenia, he felt called to volunteer for the missions. He had heard of the Leopoldine Society, which had formed to support the North American missions. After receiving the proper permissions, he embarked on his journey to the missions in 1830. Now a priest of the diocese of Cincinnati, he was sent to the territory of Michigan to work among the Natives there.
What was Father Baraga’s missionary life like?
The life of a missionary in the mid-1800’s was full of hardships. Food was scarce, housing was poor, great expanses had to be covered on foot through primitive forests or on dangerous waters in small canoes. Initially Baraga ministered to the Natives through an interpreter. After much study, he soon mastered Ottawa and later Chippewa and dedicated much of his ‘spare’ time to composing spiritual books for the Indians in their native languages.
His work among the Natives was marvelously fruitful. Soon after entering a new village, many desired the waters of Baptism. To these Baraga then taught the foundations of Catholic doctrine and the spiritual life. His converts often became effective evangelizers and catechists themselves.
What was the secret of Baraga’s missionary success?
Father Baraga was a man of prayer and penance and these were the soul of his fruitful ministry. At the same time, he was remarkably gifted and he used his human talents in every way possible to bring others to Christ. His zeal was unmatched; his evangelical and catechetical methods were highly effective. In his conversation he knew how to present the message of Christ so that those to whom he spoke could see its blessedness. He used his great gifts of language and writing to compose catechisms, prayer books and many parts of the Bible for his flock.
When did Baraga become Bishop?
In 1853 the Upper Peninsula of Michigan became a diocese. Baraga was chosen as its first bishop and was consecrated on November 1st of that year. In addition to his own expansive territory, the Bishops of Milwaukee and Detroit entrusted the care of their northern Indian regions to the new bishop. Visiting the far reaching settlements, securing money for a poor diocese and finding priests to serve his people were his greatest challenges.
What were his last years like?
In the fall of 1866, Bishop Baraga suffered a serious stroke which left him greatly limited in strength and abilities. He could no longer write, speak easily, move about or even say Mass. He suffered thus for over a year, continuing to lead his flock while awaiting a successor. He died in 1868 on the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus which that year fell on January 19.
Is Bishop Baraga a canonized saint?
Although many admired Bishop Baraga’s life and work during his life and after his death, it was not until 1950 that Bishop Noa of the diocese of Marquette set up an historical commission to gather information so that Bishop Baraga’s cause for beatification might be introduced. In May, 2012, Bishop Baraga was declared ’Venerable’ which means his life was truly one of heroic virtue. Two miracles attributed to his intercession are needed before Bishop Baraga can be declared a saint. The first is now being studied by the Church in Rome.
What can we learn from Bishop Baraga?
There is much that Bishop Frederick Baraga, popularly known as ‘The Snowshoe Priest,’ can teach us. As we seek to bring Christ to our families and communities, we can learn much from his example and methods. Following his example of prayer, penance, zeal and resourcefulness, he can teach us ways to become missionaries in our world today. We must, however, be willing to give ourselves completely to God and our neighbor as he did…
If you love God sincerely and above all, you will easily fulfill all other duties toward Him. Nothing is difficult, nothing tedious, to a loving heart. –Bishop Baraga
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