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Irenaeus Frederic Baraga
August 5, 2022
On June 29, 1852 Bishop Baraga wrote in his diary “Today is my 55th birthday. Thanks be to God.” He always considered June 29th to be his birthday. However, his full name is Irenaeus Frederic Baraga, which suggests that Baraga may have been born on June 28, also known as the feast of St. Irenaeus.
Did Baraga’s mother go into labor on June 28, 1797- bringing the future snowshoe priest into the world on June 29, 1797? Were records not taken correctly? Did the wrong date get written on the birth chart? These are questions that still peak our curiosity! What we do know to be true however is that throughout history, documents and Baraga’s own words, his birthday is recognized as June 29, 1797. Was this instance just a fluke? Did Bishop Baraga’s birthday have anything to do with the the feast of St. Irenaeus at all? Instead of all of these questions, maybe it’s as simple as the fact that St. Irenaeus was significant to the Baraga family.
The irony can be found in the parallel stories that exist between St. Irenaeus and Irenaeus Frederic Baraga. St. Ireneaus, a Greek bishop of the Patristic Age, was noted for his role in guiding and expanding Christian communities in the southern regions of present-day France. Centuries later, Irenaeus Frederic Baraga, best known for his missions throughout the Great Lakes region, lead and traveled thousands of miles to tend to all walks of life and connected many to the faith. St. Irenaeus believed that life’s greatest purpose was to serve the Lord. Above all else, Bishop Baraga believed that “One thing was necessary” – to love and serve the Lord.
Bishop Baraga's important connection to October 18
The stories and diary entries written by Bishop Baraga are quite remarkable, but the tragedies he has had to endure, are second to none. October 18 marks both tragedy and triumph for Baraga.
The story behind October 18:
In 1856, Baraga first writes about these tragedies writing: “On this day of sad memories Mr. Thiele passed through on his way to Germany.” This is the first of three entries he would refer to as a day of sad memories.
Bishop Baraga’s father died on October 18, 1812. On the same date in 1818, his sister, Amalia, married Joseph Gressel and in 1830 he left St. Nicholas Parish located in Smartno to begin his journey to the United States.
Baraga would make the same observation on October 18, 1860 and in 1862. He would continue to pay respect to the paths he once walked while facing God’s calling time and time again.
History of the keweenaw point Mines and churches
In the 1840s, no markets, or communities were yet formed on the Keweenaw Peninsula. It was home to a few hundred Native Americans and a handful of voyageurs, trappers, and Catholic missionaries.
However, in the late 1840s, many migrated to the remote and desolate area after hearing rumors of copper. It drew people of all walks of life, religion and cultural backgrounds. There was in fact copper, and its mining practices would last over 125 years, leaving behind clues, abandon buildings, towns and churches used to serve the influx of people who once lived in the booming mining towns.
Companies placed their mines along the central regions of the Keweenaw, while commercial businesses showed up on the shores of Lake Superior. It’s thought that the earliest villages were Copper Harbor, Eagle Harbor and Eagle River, along the northern shoreline of Keweenaw Point. Years following, in the 1850s and early 1860s, Houghton and Hancock were rapidly developing as the mines on the hills above the lake went into full production.
Once the rough mine camps began transforming into settlements, Bishop Baraga began tending to the religious needs and desires of the newly formed communities. Church building proceeded slowly in the late 1840s and early 1850s but quickly boomed as populations rose at both at the mines and commercial villages. The early churches were modest structures − small and built of wood. They were typically framed and clapboarded on the exterior. Internally, they were refined and plastered. Throughout the mining locations, “the church stood as prominent elements of the landscape.”
Commonly, a church at its location only flourished if the mining company did. Often times robbing the church of its congregation- but Bishop Baraga thought otherwise and put a large emphasis on the Keweenaw region. He felt strongly that there was a need for a church’s presence, and how right he was. Churches let settlers in the remote region, cling to a bit of their past traditions. They were able to worship and offered a place of community. In addition, Baraga was ahead of his time as he identified the need for education in the Copper Country’s youth. He spent much of his time creating resources, teaching and bringing knowledge to all people and children and helped creating a new identity- one that was not German, or Irish. Miner or Settler. One that would soon be known as American.
Consecration of the Cliff Church
Today in 1859, Baraga Consecrated the Cliff Church.
He writes, “This year I went three different times to Lake Superior. My last journey, from which I returned a few days ago, I undertook alone to dedicate the nice new church, which, under the supervision and management of Rev. Theile, has been built this summer at Cliff Mine. It is a Marian Church and it was dedicated on October 2nd, the feast of the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the Almighty God, under the invocation of his Most Blessed Mother. The Church was filled, especially from Germans, of whom there are many at this Mine. For the celebration of the solemnity I sang the pontifical mass at which Germans sand and answered; and after the gospel I preached in the three languages that are common here. The sermon in the German language was a Marian sermon that pierced deep into the hearts of the venerators of the dear Mother of God, and which also came from the innermost part of my heart. God grant that by intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, the spirit of piety and zeal, which has manifested itself in this congregation from the very beginning, be also always kept and may it increase more and more for the honor of God and his Most Blessed Mother and for the salvation of many souls.”
Cliff Mine, established in 1844, employed 840 men at its peak. The village was clustered around the mine at the base of the cliff located near Eagle River. It brought a mix of people to the area, and an even greater need for a church. Baraga lead miners, families and townspeople in mass at Cliff Church. The Cliff is estimated to produce over 40 million pounds of copper and closed in 1873. Unfortunately very little historical artifacts remain.
Photo contributed by Paul Petosky and Mining Artifacts
A Look at virtual baraga days 2020
Baraga's last years
Throughout the last years of Bishop Baraga’s life, the lack of priests and money weighed heavily on his heart. Due to his hard work and dedication, Bishop Baraga was able to report to the Holy See a year before his death that his diocese rested on a firm foundation, with enough priests and churches for the fast-growing area. In the Fall of 1866 while attending the Council of Baltimore, Bishop Baraga suffered a severe stroke. Afraid that his fellow bishops would not allow his return to the severe climate and remote regions of Lake Superior, he begged the priest who accompanied him (Rev. Honoratus Bourion) to take him back to Marquette. Understanding his bishop wanted to die among his flock, Rev. Bourion carried Baraga to the train for the long trip back to Marquette.
Bishop Baraga’s health improved somewhat and he continued to administer his diocese while anxiously awaiting the coadjutor promised him at the Council.
Baraga passed away on the early morning of January 19, 1868, the feast of the Holy Name to which he was especially devoted.
On January 30, the day of his funeral, was declared a civic day of mourning in the city of Marquette, MI. In spite of the bitter cold and blizzard conditions, St. Peter Cathedral was filled to capacity and people stood outside the building to attend the funeral. Both written and oral accounts from the time show that Catholics and non-Catholics alike believed that a Saint lived and died in their midst.
The conviction of Bishop Frederic Baraga’s outstanding sanctity continued to grow after his death. Several biographies have been published in both the Slovenian and English languages and the bishop Baraga Association continue to work on his Cause for Canonization.
The Baraga Educational Center
The house once lived in by Bishop Baraga in Marquette, MI is now an educational Center and Museum. In 2017, the Bishop Baraga Association began the construction of the Baraga Educational Center; restoring and transforming the Baraga House into a museum. The lower level houses artifacts and historical information owned and related to Bishop Baraga. In 2018, Most Reverend John F. Doerfler blessed the Baraga Educational Center and the doors were open to the public.
A year later, the Bishop Baraga Association began the construction of the Baraga Prayer Gardens and Votive House. The transformation didn’t happen over night and we have a lot of people to thank for their unwavering support. Today, this historic building is now home to the BBA offices and houses both the artifacts and the legacy of this Saintly Man.
The Baraga Educational Center is usually open April 1- November 30 from 8:30am-5:00pm, as well as on the off season, evenings and weekends by appointment. Due to COVID-19 the Museum is open by appointment only. However, visitors and community members are welcome to viist the Prayer Garden anytime. For additional information please contact the Bishop Baraga Association at 906-227-9117.
A trip to Grand Portage (Minnesota)
In 1846, Father Frederic Baraga got word that the Ojibwe community at Grand Portage (present day Minnesota) was in the midst of an epidemic and needed help. With no adequate roads, the journey would be more than 200 miles on land and likely take a month or more of travel, but travel across Lake Superior would only be 40 miles.
Father Baraga chose the Lake Superior route and enlisted help of a local Ojibwe man, Louis Goudin, and they launched Goudin’s 18-foot canoe from Sand Island toward the Minnesota shore. Moments into the trip a storm arose. For several hours, Goudin paddled frantically while Baraga prayed for safe passage. As they approached shore, Goudin realized there wasn’t a safe place to land. Baraga stated calmly “We will be saved. Go straight on.” Ahead a calm river came into view.
When they landed safely, they built a wooden cross to praise God for safe travels and made their way to Grand Portage. Present day, the wooden cross has been replaced with a granite one. The calm river once spotted by these two brave men, was named the Cross river, flowing into Lake Superior near Schroeder, MN.
250 mile trek and an unwavering spirit
In the winter of 1853, Bishop Baraga was told of a family in desperate need of medicine and provisions. He loaded up what supplies he could carry, and took off on a 250-mile trip to help them. With 90 miles left until his arrival, Bishop Baraga’s snowshoes gave out, and he was stuck in the snow. By “chance”, Baraga met a trader who worked for the federal government. He explained the situation, and the trader gave him a pair of new snowshoes. Bishop Baraga was able to go off on his way again, thanks to kindness of a stranger.
The trader later speculated that Bishop Baraga would have died out in the snow if it hadn’t been for their chance meeting. Although this would be a thought of anyone making the 250-mile trek, this was not Baraga’s way of thought, No distance was too great for him to travel, no danger to harsh if he had the chance to help another and save a soul. To him, one soul was worth more than all the money in the world.
Baraga's coat of arms
Today, we’re breaking down Bishop Baraga’s original coat of arms and its meaning behind each piece!
UNUM EST NECESSARIUM: Bishop Baraga’s Personal Motto, “only one thing is necessary” – Luke 10:42
ROMAN GALERO: The galero was originally a pilgrim’s hat like a sombrero and is seen in various colors and forms and is used to show heraldic achievements. The Galero is attached to tassels, indicating the rank of the clergy. A bishop’s galero is green with six tassels on each side. It’s stated that the green color originated in Spain where a green hat was worn by bishops formerly.
MITER: In western churches, the Miter is placed above the shield of all people who were entitled to wear the miter, mostly specific to Bishops.
CROSS: The display of the cross behind the shield is restricted to Bishops as a mark of their dignity.
CROSIER: The crosier was displayed as a symbol of pastoral jurisdiction by bishops.
SHIELD: The Shield is the core of the coat of arms, with other elements placed around, above or below it. Unless a bishop has a family coat of arms, they would adopt within their shield, symbols that indicate interests and past service. Venerable Frederic Baraga had a strong love of God and also held a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother, as his Coat of Arms depicts.
On the left section of the Crest is “IHS” for Christ; The cross and three nails on the left section symbolize the instruments of Christ’s crucifixion.
On the right section is “AM” for Mary. The sword that pierced Mary’s heart at that crucifixion and the star that symbolizes her triumphant queen-ship appear in the right hand section.
At the bottom half are the signs of faith, hope and charity: a cross, an anchor, and a heart. Frederic Baraga’s entire life was devoted to these three theological virtues.
Excerpts from Bp. Baraga: “Protector of Wayfarers/Seafarers” by Thomas Altman
Thomas Altman of Shakopee, Minnesota, sent the Bishop Baraga Association an incredibly moving story about a solo kayak trip he took on Lake Superior in July of 2018. The trip, a spiritual quest, was originally meant to be a two week, 130-mile paddle around the Keweenaw Peninsula. Presenting the idea to his spiritual director Altman said, “I desire my Keweenaw trip to be spiritual in nature, with these components: prayer, study, contemplation, exertion, ingenuity, observation, awe, wonder, and thanksgiving. I do this in the spirit of, and under the protection of, Venerable Bishop Frederic Baraga.”
Lake Superior grew treacherous as Altman scanned the island for a safe entrance to the harbor. The waves had grown to 8-feet and the surf was crashing up and over the cliffs and boulders that lined the harbor. Altman’s sleek fiberglass kayak would not withstand these dangerous landing conditions, and his body was becoming weak from the battle. Altman says, “My poor body was sore and almost spent, from the continuous reflexively counter-acting the energy of the waves from conflicting directions for five hours now, as it closed in on 9 p.m. without a rest. It was pretty dicey for a while, and I don’t know how I made it, but I finally broke through to the south side of the island and gave glory, praise, and thanks to God!”
While Altman was out of direct wave action, the south side of the island was by no means calm. The “fortress-like walls of naturally-formed concrete-conglomerate,” as described by Altman, provided no safe stopping point. He continues on to say, “Then, to my bewilderment, I saw an odd sight, as I paddled west along Manitou’s southern shore (anytime you see something that strikes you as peculiar, Pay Attention). At 9:30 p.m., the setting sun just grazed over the island’s treetops, shining on, and lighting up a lonely little tree at the end of a breakwater-like rock outcropping. This scrawny little tree, barely 6-feet tall, formed a green cross, with its leaves aglow, backlit by the soft golden sunlight. Intrigued, I paddled towards it, wondering if it was ‘a sign’ for land here. It was like a neon green cross, pointing to, identifying a safe harbor of refuge.” The steep outcropping, adorned with what Altman dubs the, “Baraga Cross,” proved to be the safest option for landing. After paddling an exhausting and technical 17-miles, he finally managed to maneuver 250 lbs. of boat and gear up and out of the surf. Greeted by mosquitos, fumbling through weariness, Altman had made it ashore. He concludes, “That’s how Fr. Baraga and his dauntless companion got off the lake, with no map, just faith, without being dashed on the rocks.”
Baraga Days 2020 Announcement
Baraga Days Announcement: Due to the continuing COVID-19 outbreak, we are unable to host the in-person Baraga Days event scheduled in Lemont, IL on September 19-20, 2020. The Bishop Baraga Association is working in conjunction with the Slovenian Culture Center from Lemont, IL to create an online event. Please watch our website, Facebook page and Fall Baraga Bulletin for further details about the event. Thank you for your understanding and continued support.
Bishop Baraga declared venerable
One of our favorite moments in recent years is when Bishop Frederic Baraga was declared “Venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI! Below is an excerpt from an article released by the Diocese of Marquette in 2012.
“Bishop Frederic Baraga has been declared “Venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI. The decision by the Holy Father was announced on May 10, 2012 directly following his meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Bishop Alexander Sample commented, “I am thrilled beyond words at this recognition of Bishop Baraga’s heroic virtue by the universal Church. I cannot overstate what a significant step this is toward the anticipated beatification and canonization of Bishop Baraga. This is a day for which we have been waiting nearly 40 years. I am so pleased to be able to call my saintly predecessor ‘Venerable’ Frederic Baraga!”
Baraga Days and Baraga Celebrations were held annually between locations in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. In 1949, Marquette, MI became home to one of the largest celebrations holding mass, traditional dance and praise as well as worship and celebration for who Baraga was and all that he accomplished.
Bishop Sample & BBA Founder Joseph Gregorich
In 1999, (present day Arch Bishop) Bishop Sample presented a gift and cake in celebration and recognition of Joesph Gregorich’s hard work on Bishop Baraga’s Cause for Canonization.
Celebrating 150 Years of Bishop baraga
In 1947, Baraga Days was held in Eagle Harbor, MI. Joseph Zyrd said mass at the Altar and a crowd gathered in a nearby field to celebrate and commemorate 150 years of Bishop Baraga.
Bishop Baraga Association Moves to the u.p.
After being moved from IL to Marquette, MI, The Bishop Baraga Association was located on Fischer Street. An excerpt from a news article:
“The first day of work in the new Bishop Baraga Association Office located on Fischer Street, Marquette, provided the photographer with the above picture of the personnel currently engaged in the Cause for Beatification of Bishop Baraga. The three women pictured at their desks are (left to right) Mrs. Joesph Gregorich, who has been ably assisting her husband in the many details of Association work; Miss Mary Ann Malloy and Miss Mary Gail Hampton, secretaries. Standing left to right are Msgr. Robert Chisholm, Assistant editor of the Bishop Baraga Bulletin conversing with Joseph Gregorich, Bishop Baraga Historian; Howard Brown working on a translation of Latin and French documents, is shown at the files with Father Charles Carmody, Historical Consultant. Absent from the picture is Miss Mary Harrington, secretary for the Association, who is on vacation. Howard Brown, a seminarian, will leave for his theological studies at St. John’s Provincal Seminary in Plymouth soon and Miss Hampton and Miss Malloy will attend Northern Michigan College.”
The founding of the bishop baraga archives
The Bishop Baraga Association was founded in 1930. The original mission was to promote the
Cause for Canonization of Bishop Baraga. Did you know that the Association wasn’t always located in Marquette, MI? The BBA headquarters were once located in Oak Park, IL. The picture above is of the original Baraga Archives with BBA founder, Joseph Gregorich in Oak Park, IL.
Today, the Association resides within the Baraga Educational Center located at 615 S. Fourth Street, Marquette, MI 49855. The BBA is currently working on digitizing microfilm and other documents that have been collected, donated and transcribed in the Baraga Archives. The hope is to be able to share this information and to become a community resource to those not only interested in Frederic Bishop Baraga but also in the history of the Great Lakes Region.
Abraham and louise Fleury
Pictured above are Abraham Joseph Fleury and Louise (Messier) Fleury on their wedding day. Abraham Fleury was born on August 10, 1866 in Maskinonge, Quebec, Canada. Louise (Messier) Fleury was born on Januray 25, 1862 in Au Sable Forks, Clinton, New York, USA. They were married on November 26, 1888 and resided in Marquette County. The Fleury Family, devout Catholics and large Baraga supporters resided in the Baraga House from 1908- 1988. It’s recalled that Mrs. Fleury made a down payment of $200.00 and paid $25.00 each month as payment for the house.
Here they raised eight children; Clara, Archie, Louise, Abraham, Leo, Wilfred, Clement and Agnes. Mother, Louise Fleury had quite fond memories of Bishop Baraga. As a young girl she would often times bring laundry or meals over to Bishop Baraga during the last few years of his life and implemented the knowledge and teachings of Baraga into her children. The Fleury children reported that they “knew Baraga well” and that their mother talked about him often.
Mother, Louise Fleury passed away on February 20, 1930. Father, Abraham Fleury passed away on September 14, 1944. The house remained in the Fluery Family after their parents death and was always looked upon as a “special place” to the children.
Pictured left is the Fleury family
Back Row: Louise, Wilfred, Leo, Clement
Front Row: Agnes, Abraham Sr., Louise and Clara
The history of the baraga house
The Baraga House was built in 1857 and is the oldest house in Marquette County. Originally the house was behind St. Peter Cathedral. It was formerly used as a parish; the first floor being used for the church, the second story being a place of residents for the priest.
Bishop Baraga moved into the house in 1866. He was very minimalistic. From personal stories told, we know that there was no electricity, no furnace. It did have a small wood stove in the death room. We know that while Baraga was here, the upstairs wasn’t used much, because he knew that it would be too costly to maintain and heat this large of a building. So he worked and lived predominantly downstairs.
Bishop Baraga passed away in 1868 and after that a Marquette resident, Charlie McCabe bought the building and turned it into a private residency.
The original foundation’s exterior was wood clapboard siding, it became bricked in 1872 when the Baraga house moved to its present location at 615 S. Fourth Street, Marquette, MI 49855. When the building was moved, the original house was added onto another building that was already there.
The McCabe family used the house as a residence and lived here from 1872 to 1909. In 1909, the Fleury family approached the McCabes regarding the opportunity to buy the house. It stayed in the Fleury Family until 1988. In 1988 son, Wilfred Fluery passed away and left the Baraga House in his will to the Diocese of Marquette.
Meet the BBA FounDer JoSeph Gregorich
Joseph Gregorich (1889-1984) was a mechanical engineer by profession and a historian by avocation. Mr. Gregorich’s mother was born in one of the parishes in Slovenia in which Fr. Baraga had been a parish priest, and she inspired her son with a love of Baraga. Joseph Gregorich dedicated fifty years of his life to the collection (usually by microfilm), cataloguing, and translation of materials relating to the life and activities of Father and later Bishop Baraga. This collection was the basis of the “Positio,” the document describing Baraga’s life of heroic virtue, which was presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican. The collection of historical data on Bishop Baraga that Joseph Gregorich amassed totaled 600 rolls of microfilm and 200 feet of shelved, printed material. Most of this historical material came from the United States, Austria, and Slovenia (which was part of communist Yugoslavia at the time of Mr. Gregorich’s collection activities). Lesser amounts were collected in Switzerland, France, and Italy. Mr. Gregorich translated all the documents in the Slovene, German, and French languages into English. Joseph Gregorich was also the primary translator of the diary Bishop Baraga kept while he was bishop. To insure the confidentiality of his diary, the saintly bishop wrote it in seven languages – German, French, Slovene, Italian, Latin, English, and Chippewa. Mr. Gregorich translated the first five languages. Rev. Paul Prud’homme, S.J., translated the Chippewa entries. Mr. Gregorich was also one of the founders of the Bishop Baraga Association in 1930. This Association was organized to promote the Cause for Canonization of Bishop Baraga. In his later years, Joseph Gregorich organized bus trips to the Upper Peninsula, bringing people from the Chicago area to the Baraga sites. Mary Gregorich (1889-1988) supported her husband in his dedication to Bishop Baraga by running a comfortable home, always shielding her husband from the occasional household problem. Much of the expenses of Mr. Gregorich’s earlier research on Bishop Baraga came from the family’s modest household budget, but Mary never complained, saying many times, “Joe is doing God’s work.”