“The Snowshoe Bishop”

Today marks the death of Bishop Frederic Baraga (1797-1868), first Bishop of Marquette and the first Slovenian priest in America. Ordained in 1823, he answered a call for volunteers to minister to Michigan’s Native peoples. For nearly forty years he worked in northern Michigan, often traveling on snowshoes through harsh winter weather. He wrote the first Chippewa dictionary, as well as catechisms and devotional books. In 1853 northern Michigan was detached from the Diocese of Detroit and Baraga was named its first Bishop. (He was the first bishop to write a pastoral letter in both the English and Chippewa languages.) When the government threatened to move the Native peoples West, he bought land for them out of his own pocket so they could stay. By the time of his death at age 71, he had pretty well worked himself to death. Baraga’s life, one historian wrote, “might be summed up in the one phrase: Saintliness in action.” He has a village, a township, a county, and a state park named after him. His canonization cause is currently under consideration.

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