THE STORY OF FREDERIC BARAGA ON LAKE SUPERIOR
“The Snowshoe Priest” was the perfect name for Reverend Frederic Baraga. As he carried out crucial missionary work with the Chippewa Indians on the Lake Superior shore, he did not let heavy winter snows halt his work. Each winter he trekked hundreds of miles on snowshoes to bring assistance, comfort and blessings to tribal members in remote villages.
Frederic Baraga was born June 29, 1797 in Slovenia. His family’s wealth afforded him … … an excellent education in the classics, languages and law. At age 24 he entered a seminary and was ordained a Catholic priest two years later.
Father Baraga became deeply troubled hearing the plight of the American Indians. The United States was experiencing explosive growth westward, but the American Indian was not able to participate nor adapt to this changing environment. Baraga felt that missionary work was badly needed there, and in 1830, against the advice of family and clergy friends, he left his comfortable home and departed for the New World into an uncertain and likely perilous future.
Father Baraga’s worst fears were realized when he witnessed the poverty, starvation, filth and disease in the northern Chippewa villages. But he enthusiastically embraced the monumental task of introducing change. For 35 years he journeyed along the Lake Superior shore, establishing missions in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. Much of the travel was highly dangerous due to the remoteness and extreme weather. He quickly mastered the Chippewa language, establishing a close bond with tribal members. He carried food and medicine to stricken areas, established schools for Indian children and baptized multitudes of Chippewas.
In 1853 Baraga was elevated to Bishop, becoming the first bishop in Upper Michigan. In May 2012, in recognition of a lifetime of selfless service, Pope Benedict XVI declared Bishop Baraga “Venerable”, the initial step leading to sainthood.