Early Life – Born and baptized on the same day, June 29, 1797 in Slovenia, Frederic Baraga was the 4th of five children. 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 was changed several times during his childhood, between Slovenian and German. In addition, Latin and Greek were required subjects for all students. So by the age of 16, Frederic Baraga was multilingual – a skill that would serve him well later in life. Young Frederic attended the University of Vienna, where he studied law and graduated in 1821.
Priesthood – Soon after, he felt drawn to the priesthood and joined the seminary. Two years later, at the age of 26, he was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest on Sept. 21, 1823. He spent the next few years in parish work in Slovenia.
America – In 1830, Fr. Baraga answered the call of the Bishop of Cincinnati, Ohio, for priests to come from Europe to help minister to his growing flock, as well as priests to do missionary work with the Native Americans. On Oct. 29, 1830, Baraga left his homeland for the United States to spend the rest of his life in the Indian missionary field. He arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Jan. 18, 1831, where he spent the winter and spring serving the German Catholics who lived in that area.
L’Arbre Croche, Michigan – On May 28, 1831, he arrived at L’Arbre Croche, Michigan, near Harbor Springs, which was his first Indian mission. He labored there with apostolic zeal and during the next two years converted and baptized 547 Ottawa adults and children.
Grand Rapids, Michigan – Two years later, 1833, he moved to the pioneer site of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he established another Indian mission, with a church and school. He is credited for around 3,000 conversions here.
LaPointe, Wisconsin – In 1835, he moved on to LaPointe, Wisconsin, an island village in Lake Superior. It was here that he began his labors among the Chippewa tribes. He worked successfully for eight years in this area, baptizing 981 souls.
L’Anse, Michigan – In 1843, he traveled on to the village of L’Anse, Michigan, on the Keweenaw Bay, where he founded another Indian mission. For the next ten years he labored in the vast mission of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, being the only Catholic priest in this area for many years. He attended not only to the Indians, but also to the many white settlers who spoke German, French and English, who were drawn to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula due to the discovery and mining of iron and copper.
The Snowshoe Priest – Truly incredible are the hardships and difficulties that Fr. Baraga endured during this period of his life. His goal was to make God known and loved by all men. Totally devoted to the Indians, he learned to speak their language with amazing fluency. He worked to protect them from being forced to relocate. He even published a dictionary and grammar of the Ojibway (Chippewa) language. In his diary, he recounts that during his summer travels, he often could not get anyone to attend his Church services except a few old women. This was mainly due to the need of the people to work as much as they could during the good weather. He found that if he traveled during the winter months, and held services, hundreds of people of all ages would come several miles to attend. It was his travels through hundreds of miles in Northern Michigan harsh winters by snowshoe that earned him the title of “The Snowshoe Priest.” He continued this type of travel even into his sixties.
Appointed Bishop – In 1853, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was detached from the Diocese of Detroit and elevated into its own Apostolic Vicariate. Fr. Frederic Baraga was appointed as its first bishop by Pope Pius IX. He had to travel to the cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, for his ordination as Bishop. On his way back to Michigan, he wrote two copies of his first apostolic letter to the people of Upper Michigan, one in English and the other in Chippewa. His letters reached his people before he himself did. His chosen motto as Bishop was “Unum Est Necessarium” – “Only One Thing is Necessary”. In his letter, he explains this motto through the five duties of all Christians, the greatest of which, he tells us, is Love – and Love of God above all. It is the ONE THING NECESSARY.
Click here to read the first apostolic letter of Bishop Frederic Baraga to the people of the Diocese of Upper Michigan. It’s amazing how the truths of Faith still apply to us today.
As Bishop, his jurisdiction extended not only to the whole of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but also to a large part of the northern Lower Peninsula, to northern Wisconsin and the north shore of Lake Superior. He labored in this vast extent of territory for close to 15 years, travelling almost incessantly year after year. He moved about in a vast triangle territory of over 80,000 square miles, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada. No forest, no island in his vast territory was unknown to him. Shooting perilous river rapids in a fragile canoe, entering dreary swamps, and trudging the frozen wilderness, this sensitive and cultured priest went from village to village seeking souls for God.
In 1865, he moved the See (or headquarters) of his diocese from Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, to Marquette, Michigan, where it remains today. In the last ten years of his life, his health gradually declined. He became intermittently deaf and suffered a series of strokes. He died on January 19, 1868, at the age of 70, in Marquette, Michigan. After his elevation to the status of Venerable, a special chapel was built on to the Cathedral of St. Peter in Marquette to house his remains, so that the faithful may have easy access to prayer before him. His body was moved from the crypt beneath the Cathedral, to this special chapel in 2014.
Cause for Canonization – The cause for his canonization was opened in 1952 by Bishop Thomas Noa, the 8th bishop of the Diocese of Marquette. The formal canonization process began with his elevation to “Servant of God” in 1973. Bishop Frederic Baraga was declared “Venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI on May 10th, 2012. As of March 2015, the Vatican is currently investigating a possible miracle for beatification attributed to his intercession. If approved, Bishop Frederic Baraga will be declared a “Blessed”, one step closer to being declared a Saint.
Click here to pray the prayer for the Cause of Sainthood for Bishop Frederic Baraga.
If you experience an answer to prayer through the intercession of Venerable Bishop Frederic Baraga, please contact the Bishop Baraga Association at the Diocese of Marquette.
347 Rock St.
Marquette, MI 49855
Ph: (906) 227-9117
- The village of Baraga, Baraga 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
- A memorial sculpture of him by Jack E. Anderson is located in L’Anse, Michigan.
- 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 the Cross 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.
- 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.
- Baraga is the namesake of a network of six Catholic radio stations serving northern Michigan and is based at originating station WTCK licensed to Charlevoix with its main studio located near the Cross in the Woods Catholic Shrine in Indian River.