[The information presented here was found on an outside informational board near the Shrine's Statue of Bishop Baraga. For a more detailed history click here to purchase the Life of Bishop Frederic Baraga by P Chrysostomus Verwyst, O.F.M.]
Frederic Baraga was the first Bishop of Marquette’s Upper Peninsula, Marquette Diocese.
Born on June 29, 1797, as Irenaeus Frederie Baraga, he never used his first name. He was the third of five children born to John and Katherine de Jencic Baraga. His childhood, reportedly was happy although he encountered death early – loving his only brother, older sister and his mother before he had turned 12. But before she died in 1808, Katherine Baraga had instilled in young Frederic the three tenets which would shape his life – love of God, hatred of evil and compassion for the poor and suffering.
John Baraga died in 1812, leaving Frederic his heir. Later, Frederic divided his inheritance among his surviving sisters and entered the seminary in the diocese of Ljublana, Slovenia. He was ordained there on September 21, 1823.
Even though he was ordained to the priesthood he had to spend another year in the seminary finishing his theological studies. During this time he performed priestly functions in the Cathedral at the request of the Bishop. The young Father Baraga was then sent to serve as assistant pastor in the famous church of St. Martin.
Toward the end of the year 1830, he began his journey to America. From New York, he traveled to what would later become the state of Michigan to begin his ministry with the Ottawas at Arbre Croche (now known as Harbor Springs). Two years later, he left this very successful endeavor to start a mission at a new site – destined to become Grand Rapids, Michigan. For 35 more years in numerous journeys that would encompass 80,000 square miles of Michigan, Minnesota and Canada, Baraga served his chosen people - the Indians of the Great Lakes – ministering to their cultural and educational, as well as spiritual, needs. Even though he was accustomed to a warmer climate, winter did not deter him; if he could not walk, he would snowshoe.
On one journey, it is recorded, he snowshoed nearly 700 miles roundtrip.
Father Baraga truly loved the Indians of the Great Lakes. He sympathized with their desire to retain their culture and their land. To aid them he studied and spoke both Ottawa and the Chippewa language, ultimately writing a Chippewa dictionary. This dictionary is still used today.
In 1857, John Gilmary Shea wrote that no missionary to whom he had the opportunity to speak had published more works and more frequently revised editions than had Baraga. In fact, says Shea, Baraga’s work provided a rich religious library for the Ottawas and Chippewas than that offered to any other tribe. Shea lists Baraga’s work published from 1832 to 1857 as follows: Prayer and Hymn Book – and Cathechism, 1832, followed by three other editions from 1832 to 1857; History, Character, and Habits of the North American Indians, 1837; Bible Extracts, Life of Christ, Epistles and Gospels, 1837; Instructions and Meditations on all the Doctrines of the Catholic Church, 1849; Chippewa Grammar, 1849; Chippewa Dictionary, 1852.