pope declares bishop frederic baraga venerable

(May 18, 2012 issue of The U.P. Catholic)

By John Fee

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!”

The announcement has been anticipated since the Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted on Feb. 7 of this year that Bishop Baraga’s life exhibited “heroic virtue.” Bishop Sample, who was still in Rome following his ad limina visit when the congregation’s vote was announced, said naming Bishop Baraga Venerable would be a “huge step in the cause for his beatification.”

Now that the diocese’s first bishop has been named Venerable, some immediate changes include the ability to publicly venerate him, and offer public prayers to him asking for his intercession and help. By canon law, his tomb must be accessible to the faithful. Plans are already being considered to move Venerable Frederic Baraga’s remains from the crypt in the basement of St. Peter Cathedral to a sarcophagus, which would be placed in a small chapel addition to the side of the cathedral.

Being named Venerable clears one track of what Bishop Sample calls a two-track process for declaring a saint. In the first track, the person’s life is examined to determine “heroic virtue.” In the second track, two miracles attributed to the intercession of the potential saint must be verified.

To be declared Venerable, a positio of Bishop Baraga’s life was thoroughly studied by historic and theological consultors to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. A positio is a written history of the potential saint’s life and work, as well as a summary of the person’s virtues. After the consultors gave a positive review of the record, the congregation studied it and gave it an affirmative vote. It was then up to the pope to declare Bishop Baraga Venerable.

Now that Venerable Frederic Baraga has cleared the first track toward sainthood, he is also progressing along the second track involving miracles attributed to his intercession. Following a four-month investigation by a diocesan tribunal, documents were signed and sealed on July 17, 2011 at a ceremony held at St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette concerning an alleged miracle attributed to the intercession of Venerable Frederic Baraga. Postulator for the cause, Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, delivered the findings of the tribunal to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The alleged miracle involved a purported tumor on a patient’s liver that had shown up on several diagnostic tests. The patient’s family and their parish priest prayed for healing by invoking the intercession of Venerable Frederic Baraga. Along with prayer, a stole belonging to Bishop Baraga was placed on the patient’s abdomen. The patient reported no longer being in pain. Doctors performed exploratory surgery and could find no trace of the tumor.

Should this, or another miracle attributed to Venerable Frederic Baraga be verified by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope could then declare Venerable Frederic Baraga to be “Blessed.” To subsequently be declared a saint by the pope, another miracle would have to occur following the beatification, and also be verified by the Congregation.

The cause for Venerable Frederic Baraga’s sainthood was opened in 1952. Venerable Frederic Baraga received the title, “Servant of God,” when the Congregation for the Causes of Saints formally admitted his cause for consideration.

Venerable Frederic Baraga was born in Villa Malavas (Slovenia) on June 29, 1797. He came to the United States to be a missionary to the Odawa and Ojibwa of the upper Great Lakes region in 1830. Venerable Frederic Baraga traveled throughout the 80,000 square-mile territory by canoe, boat, horse, snowshoes and even dog sled and became well- known as the “Snowshoe Priest” for his many travels during winter. He was consecrated a bishop and appointed vicar apostolic of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in 1853.

When the vicariate apostolic was established as the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie (now called the Diocese of Marquette) in 1857, Venerable Frederic Baraga served as its first bishop until his death in 1868. His work includes an Ojibwa-English dictionary, which is still in use today.