Happy Birthday, Bishop Frederic Baraga

I can think of no better way to kick off my new blog than by celebrating Bishop Frederic Baraga’s birthday on June 29th.

Frederic Baraga was an integral figure in early Marquette and the Great Lakes region in general. Below is the passage in my upcoming book My Marquette, which includes a passage where Bishop Baraga is described in my novel Iron Pioneers.

            Bishop Baraga had been born in 1797 to a wealthy family in Slovenia, part of the Austrian empire. When Baraga entered the priesthood, he could have received a comfortable livelihood for the remainder of his days. Instead, at the age of thirty-three, he followed the Lord’s call to go to America. After four months in Cincinnati where he worked as a missionary and learned English, he traveled to Arbre Croche in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula to serve the Ottawa Indians. Lower Michigan had many missionaries, so Baraga soon felt called to spread the Word of God to the Chippewa of the Upper Peninsula. In 1837, he traveled to La Pointe, the first missionary to visit there since Father Marquette nearly two centuries before. Then he traveled on in 1843 to Keweenaw Bay to found another mission in L’Anse. After that, he never failed as a true missionary, constantly moving from one community to another; he preached and established congregations throughout the peninsula, often helping to build birchbark churches with his own hands; he converted the locals and said masses for them, then moved on to find new converts, but always he returned to help each congregation grow in its faith. When he made a trip to Europe, he found himself a celebrity; he held audiences with the pope, dined with royalty, and became the most talked about man on the continent, but his visit and all the attention it gave him only made him homesick for the natives of Michigan who needed him. He loved the Chippewa so much, he learned their language and wrote their first dictionary and a large collection of religious and moral instructions for them. After years of self-sacrificing dedication, he humbly accepted the title of Bishop in 1853 in Sault Sainte Marie. The title did not alter his determination; he continued to preach, to walk or snowshoe through all types of weather from one parish to the next, to spread God’s love to His people, now both the Chippewa and the white settlers who had arrived because of the iron ore. Upper Michigan’s fierce weather had worn his face until he came to resemble the natives; some said this change was a mark of his saintliness. Now this great man had decided to honor Marquette, centrally located and named for Baraga’s missionary predecessor, by building his cathedral there. — Iron Pioneers

 Bishop Frederic Baraga visited Marquette many times following the city’s founding in 1849. Then in 1864, with his laying of the cornerstone in Marquette for St. Peter’s Cathedral, the center of the new Upper Michigan Diocese was transferred from Sault Sainte Marie to Marquette as a more central location. Bishop Baraga soon after moved to Marquette and settled in this brick home just a couple of blocks south from the new cathedral, where he would live until his death in 1868.

Bishop Baraga Home - Marquette

One can imagine Bishop Baraga standing in the house’s little tower, looking out over the lake in winter or watching the residents bustle about the streets of Marquette. One wonders whether he ever felt like Moses seeing the Promised Land—marveling at how the Upper Peninsula had changed in the more than thirty years since he first arrived there, long before iron ore and copper led to the influx of settlers, and whether he felt satisfaction in all the good he had done for so many for so long.

Bishop Baraga Home Historic Marker

Today, Bishop Baraga’s home is the headquarters of the Bishop Baraga Association which has several thousand members worldwide. The association’s main purpose is to further the cause for the canonization of Bishop Baraga, an effort that has been in progress since the 1950s and which my cousin, Monsignor Joseph Zryd, played a major role in promoting as president of the association in 1955 when Bishop Noa set up the historical commission to begin the canonization process. Members of the diocese have fervently worked since then to achieve Bishop Baraga’s canonization based on his years of dedication to the natives and settlers of Upper Michigan as well as the miracles ascribed to him, including healings of different ailments and his intercession through prayer. The house is open by appointment for research into the association’s archives about Bishop Baraga and the Catholic Church’s presence in Upper Michigan.

For more facts about Bishop Baraga, see the Marquette Timeline at http://www.marquettefiction.com/timeline.html

Check back later this week for my posting on Marquette’s First Fourth of July celebration.

Explore posts in the same categories: Marquette History, Tyler's Novels

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3 Comments on “Happy Birthday, Bishop Frederic Baraga”

  1. Debbie Glade Says:

    Bishop Baraga sounds like a fascinating person, and he shares a birthday with my sister. I cant wait to read more!


  2. Nice blog site, Tyler! Also nice postings. Your upcoming book looks terrific!

  3. Cheryl Tervo Says:

    It brings me such joy to see how much is on the internet about this holy person. He had such a rich life experience that it cannot be contained in the pages of one book. As a member of the Assinins Baraga Center in Baraga Michigan, we have been collecting documents, books and old photos for 9 years about Baraga’s time spent in our region. As we continue to seek and search, we look forward to enriching our knowledge and sharing it with folks who live here. We look forward to your new book!


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