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Baraga, Frederic

Frederic Baraga

Slovenian-American Bishop Frederic Baraga (1797–1868) spent much of his career as a Roman Catholic priest and missionary to Native American populations in the Upper Midwest and Canada. He baptized thousands of new converts to Christianity, but appreciated the traditions and customs of the Ojibwa and their cousins, the Ottawa Indians, and knew that much of their culture had likely been lost forever after contact with European settlers. Dubbed the "Snowshoe Priest" during his lifetime because he favored the indigenous footwear when traveling the long distances between communities, Baraga was a gifted linguist who compiled the first-ever Ojibway-English dictionary.

The future bishop was born June 29, 1797, as Irenej Friderik Baraga in the town of Dobrnič, Slovenia. At the time, this part of Slovenia—later one of the Yugoslavian federal republics—was known as the Austrian Dukedom of Carniola, and was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Baraga was born at a castle called Mala vas, where his father, Johann Nepomuc Baraga, worked as an overseer. Baraga's family was not titled, but they were relatively affluent and could afford to send him away to school. His mother, Maria Katharin Josefa Jenčič Baraga, died in 1808, when Baraga was nine years old. That same year he was sent to Slovenia's largest urban center, Llubljana, to live and study at the home of a private tutor. The city was known by its German name, Laibach, at the time.

Became Fluent in Several Languages

Slovenia's strategic position between the Mediterranean and the Alps occasionally stirred geopolitical rivals, and turmoil flared up during Baraga's youth. Lower Carniola was occupied by French troops the year Baraga was born, and again in 1805 and 1806. In 1809 they reverted once more to French control when the area became part of the Illyrian Provinces of France. Because of this, Baraga learned both German and French as well as Slovenian during his youth. He entered Laibach's gymnasium—a school that offered a college preparatory curriculum—in 1809, and went on to the University of Vienna, from which he received his law degree in 1821.

Baraga had been raised in the Roman Catholic faith, and came to know a famous and influential cleric during his years in Vienna, Clemens Maria Hofbauer (1751–1820). Revered posthumously as the patron saint of Vienna, Hofbauer was known for his challenges to the Emperor, who oversaw the Church in Austria, and influenced Baraga's decision to forego a career in law and train for the priesthood instead. Breaking off an engagement to the daughter of a professor, he entered the seminary in Laibach in 1821. Ordained on September 21, 1823, he served in several parishes in Slovenia for the next seven years, until he heard about a new group in Vienna that was searching for priests willing to venture into the North American wilderness to convert the Native Americans there to Christianity.

The Leopoldine Society, as it was called, raised money to establish parishes in the remoter parts of the United States and Canada, and Baraga became the first missionary it sent over. The journey took two months, and Baraga arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio—the Leopoldine Society headquarters in America—in mid-January of 1831. He began studying the language of the Ottawa, which was called Anishinaabe in their own tongue, in preparation for his first assignment. He was aided by an innate gift for languages, having already become fluent in German, French, Latin, Italian, and English, as well as his own Slovenian.

The Ottawa language that Baraga took up was part of the Algonquian family of Native American tongues. The Ottawa were traders, and related to the larger ethnic group of Ojibwa, who were sometimes called Chippewa. Ottawa communities dotted the shores of Lake Huron in both present-day Michigan and Ontario, but they had also settled further west in the Grand Traverse Bay area on Lake Michigan, and it was here that Baraga was first sent. In May of 1831 he arrived in Arbre Croche, an Ottawa village that much later became part of Harbor Springs, a Michigan resort community. He found about 650 residents there, and had great success in urging them to formally adopt Christianity, reportedly converting 547 of them.

Authored First Ottawa Text

Baraga realized that simple texts with the Roman Catholic catechism—a question-and-answer form of instruction in the beliefs of the faith—and prayer books in their native language would help him better explain the Christian principles to his potential converts, and guide the recently baptized in their new form of religious worship. He authored a combination of the two forms, using the Ottawa terms he had learned, and had it printed in 1832 with the title Otawa Anamie-Misinaigan. This became the first book ever published in the Ottawa language.

In 1833 Baraga was sent to start a second mission at Grand River, a community that later grew into the city of Grand Rapids, but encountered problems when he voiced concern about the liquor that fur traders were exchanging with Native Americans, which he felt was ruinous to the health of the community. In the summer of 1835 he moved much further north, this time to La Pointe, an outpost of the American Fur Company in the northernmost part of Wisconsin, on Lake Superior. The settlement included the nearby Apostle Islands, one of which was home to a trading post dating back to 1693. The village was populated by retired traders for the American Fur Company—the immensely successful venture founded by John Jacob Astor in 1808—as well as by the indigenous Ojibwa; there were also many Métis, a mixed-race group that were the product of intermarriage between French-Canadian or British traders and Native American women.

Baraga arrived in this area—a vast, frigid land mass that included Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was sparsely populated, heavily forested, and known mainly for the harshness of its long winter—at a time when there were almost no missionaries in the region, nor had there ever been. He set to work learning the Ojibwa language and proselytizing to both indigenous and Métis. The Ojibwa—or Aanishanabe as they called themselves in their own language—were the largest population group of Native Americans after the Cherokee and Navajo in the continental United States. In his eight years at La Pointe, Baraga baptized nearly a thousand Native Americans and whites, and authored his first text in the Ojibwa language, a sermon book tilted Gagikwe-Masiniagan.

Achieved Fame as "Snowshoe Priest"

Once Baraga had established a successful mission, he usually left it in the care of another priest and moved on to start another one. In 1843 he arrived in L'Anse, on the shores of Lake Superior at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula. The entire region was now a boom town, thanks to newly discovered copper and iron deposits in the Upper Peninsula; new European immigrants with mining backgrounds began flooding in. Baraga found himself the steward of a rapidly growing Roman Catholic population as well as the unofficial one for the Protestant settlers. In 1848 church authorities elevated him to the rank of vicar general; five years later he was consecrated bishop of Amyzonia, which was the original term for the diocese of Upper Michigan, later called the diocese of Marquette. Its seat was originally in Sault Ste. Marie. Furthermore, the bishop of Toronto put Baraga in charge of missions located on the north shore of Lake Superior from Bruce Mines to Thunder Bay, and a few even further north, such as one at Lake Nipigon.

In all, Baraga oversaw an 80,000-square mile territory of land and water, and became increasingly devoted to his vocation as he grew older. He traveled hundreds of miles every year in order to carry out his work, and used the Ojibwa modes of transportation—a canoe in the warmer months, and snowshoes for winter travel. In one letter, he wrote that he planned to visit La Pointe and L'Anse and then go on to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, a journey of some 690 miles that he would make on foot. "When a person must walk upon such snowshoes all day long and for that many days in succession, especially in those trackless forests, he cannot travel without extreme fatigue and almost total exhaustion," he admitted in the letter, according to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Larry Oakes. He also rose at 3 or 4 a.m. daily in order to devote three hours of his morning to prayer.

Baraga became famous throughout northern Michigan and neighboring areas as the beloved "Snowshoe Priest," and even enjoyed some eminence in Europe, thanks to his writings about his work with the Ojibwa. He was respected by native groups as well as Protestant newcomers to the region, and venerated by his Roman Catholic congregation as an exemplar of Christ's teachings in practice. During the worst months of winter, Baraga remained inside—his permanent home was in L'Anse—and studied the Ojibwa language. He authored two significant works on this Anishinaabe dialect, which was widely spoken in the Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The first, Theoretical and Practical Grammar of the Otchipwe Language, was published in Detroit in 1850. His Dictionary of the Otchipwe Language, published in Cincinnati in 1853, remained in print for decades to come, and provided an invaluable tool for the priests and other settlers who ventured into the region.

First Bishop of Marquette

In 1865 Baraga moved to Marquette, Michigan, when this city near the shore of Lake Superior was named the new seat of the Upper Michigan diocese. A church commensurate with this status was built, and in 1866 the Cathedral of St. Peter was dedicated by Baraga during a Mass. Later that year, however, Baraga suffered a stroke in Baltimore during an important conference of American bishops; he reportedly begged his aide to help him on the train before his fellow clerics realized his condition and prevented him from returning to what had become his home. Over the next two years, Baraga's health declined further, and he died in Marquette on January 19, 1868. He was buried 11 days later in the Cathedral of St. Peter crypt, a day on which not even a blizzard snowstorm prevented hundreds of mourners from paying their respects.

The Cathedral of St. Peter sits on Baraga Street in Marquette, and there is also a Michigan county—which includes L'Anse, the site of his fourth mission—and village named in his honor. Devoted followers formed a society to honor him, the Bishop Baraga Association. More than a century after his death, the Association presented reams of research and testimony to an official church committee in Marquette in 1972. This hearing was the first step in the process toward Roman Catholic sainthood. Following this, the Vatican officially deemed Baraga a "Servant of God," a designation that is the first step on the path to sainthood. One younger priest, inspired by Baraga's stories of missionary work in America, was Father John Neumann (1811–1860), who later became bishop of Philadelphia and one of the first men and women to be elevated to sainthood for their religious work in America.

Periodicals

Milwaukee Journal, January 30, 1897.

Milwaukee Sentinel, March 27, 1899.

New York Times, September 19, 1972.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), August 30, 1997.

Online

Baraga, Frederic, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=38403 (November 26, 2006).

Frederic Baraga, New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02282b.htm (November 26, 2006).

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Baraga, Frederic

Frederic Baraga (bâr´əgə), 1797–1868, Roman Catholic missionary to the Native Americans of Upper Michigan, b. Slovenia. He received (1821) a law degree from the Univ. of Vienna, and after study at the Laibach seminary he was ordained (1823). As a missionary, he reached (1831) Cincinnati, where he was later (1853) consecrated bishop of Upper Michigan. The seat of that bishopric was Sault Ste Marie, and in 1865 he was given authority also over the see of Marquette. His authoritative grammar and dictionary of the Ojibwa language are still used by scholars.

See biographies by E. Jacker (1957) and B. J. Lambert (1967).

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Baraga, Frederic

BARAGA, FREDERIC

Pioneer missionary, first bishop of Marquette (MI) diocese; b. Mala Vas Castle, parish of Dobrinič, Carniola, a Slovene province later part of Yugoslavia, June 29, 1797; d. Marquette, Jan. 19, 1868. Baptized Irenaeus Frederic, he never used his first name. After receiving his preparatory education in Ljubljana, where his talent for languages was marked, he studied law at the University of Vienna, and during that period came under the influence of the Redemptorist, Clement Mary hofbauer. Upon graduation in 1821 he broke his engagement to marry, renounced his inheritance, and entered Ljubljana's seminary. He was ordained Sept. 21, 1823, and was sent first as curate to [symbol omitted]martno, near Kranj, and in 1828 to Metlika, where he continued his pastoral zeal and literary activity. A prayer book, Dušna Paša (Spiritual Food), that ran to ten large editions, and two other devotional works are from this period.

Through the leopoldinen-stiftung, founded in Vienna in 1829 to aid the American missions, Baraga volunteered for Cincinnati, thus realizing his ambition, inspired by Father Hofbauer, of laboring among the Native Americans. Shortly after arriving there, Jan. 18, 1831, he was dispatched to the Ottawas of Arbre Croche (now Harbor Springs), MI, where within 28 months he baptized 547 Native Americans and transformed a deteriorating mission into a model Christian community. Afterward followed his foundation of the Grand River (Grand Rapids) mission in September 1833, and in July 1835 his mission among the Lake Superior Chippewas at La Pointe, Madeline Island, where his church had to be twice rebuilt to accommodate his growing congregation. At L'Anse mission, which he established in 1843 on Keweenaw Bay, further success attended his efforts to convert pagans into Christians. Meanwhile, the development of copper mines on the Keweenaw Peninsula attracted pioneers and thus extended his labors and his territory, which he covered faithfully by foot and canoe.

In July 1853 Upper Peninsular Michigan became a vicariate apostolic, and on November 1 in Cincinnati Baraga was consecrated vicar apostolic with the title bishop of Amyzonia in partibus infidelium. His first act, after issuing pastorals in English and Native American, the latter an innovation, was to travel throughout Europe in search of funds and priests. He was responsible for most of the territory bordering Lake Superior and the northern area of the peninsula, as well as Native American sections of other dioceses ceded to him by neighboring bishops because of his zeal and competence. With the expansion of copper and iron mining, the pioneer population increased steadily and with it the need for more priests and churches; yet severe climatic and linguistic demands lessened the number of missionary candidates. During his three years as vicar apostolic, Baraga traveled constantly, preaching several times a day in various languages, building and maintaining churches and chapels. Though he lived frugally, his poverty was acute, especially during the Civil War when allotments from European societies, his chief source of income, shrank in purchasing power.

In 1857 his vicariate was raised to a diocese, and in 1866 Baraga transferred the see from Sault Ste. Marie to Marquette, joyfully reporting that it was now well provided with priests and churches. His Native American missions were also firmly established. During the fall of that year, however, he suffered a stroke while attending the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore. Though critically ill, he insisted upon returning to Marquette to await his coadjutor and to fulfill his vow to die among the natives. Preliminary steps have been taken toward his beatification.

Baraga's writings include voluminous correspondence, records, diaries, and reports to European societies of great historical value. He also wrote: Theoretical and Practical Grammar of the Otchipwe Language (Detroit 1850); Dictionary of the Ojibway Language (Cincinnati 1853); The History, Character, Life and Manners of the Indians (in German and Slovene, Ljubljana 1837; in French, Paris 1837); Animie-Misinaigan (Ottawa prayer-book, later enl., rev., and tr., into Chippewa); Jesus o Bimadisiwim ("Life of Jesus" in Ottawa; Paris 1837); Gagikwe-Masinaigan (sermon book in Chippewa, containing abstracts from Old and New Testaments, and Epistles and Gospels of the year; 1839, 1859); Kagige Debwewinan ("Eternal Truths"); Nanagatawendamo-Masinaigan (instructions on the Commandments and Sacraments); three devotional works for his friends and former parishioners in Slovenia, and many smaller items. His grammar and dictionary were the first published in the Chippewa and Ottawa languages and are still an aid to the study of Native American linguistics.

Bibliography: j. gregorich, The Apostle of the Chippewas: The Life Story of the Most Rev. Frederick Baraga, D.D. (Lemont, IL 1932). a. i. rezek, History of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette, 2 v. (Houghton, MI 190607). c. verwyst, Life and Labors of Rt. Rev. Frederic Baraga: First Bishop of Marquette, Mich. (Milwaukee 1900). The Marquette diocesan library at Marquette contains holographs of the Journal (Diary) and of many letters, importantly those addressed to the Leopoldine Association, Vienna. Other materials are held by the Newberry Library (Ayer Collection), Chicago, the Notre Dame University archives, and private collectors.

[j. gregorich]

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