The Statue at Assins, at the base of Michigan's Keweenaw Bay, portrays a
priest, eyes filled with calm purpose, one hand resting on the head of a
kneeling Chippewa woman, the other on the shoulder of her daughter. All
three share a time of quiet faith. Another statue, a few miles to the south
at L'Anse, portrays a priest looking out across the bay. In one hand he
holds a cross. The other holds a snowshoe by the toe-strap. Both are of
the same man, Father Frederic Baraga - the Snowshoe Priest.
He has come a long way from his native Austrian province of Carniola, just
north of Croatia. From the day in 1830 when he landed in New York City,
to his quiet death in 1868, he has been almost constantly on the move. Born
to the lesser nobility in 1797, he is educated by private tutors and goes
on to graduate from the law department at the University of Vienna in 1821.
Two years later he is admitted to holy orders at Laibach Seminary. He speaks
Slovene, French, German and several other languages. This skill will prove
valuable in the Great Lakes wilderness.
From New York he moves up the Hudson, along the Erie Canal and across Lake
Erie to Cincinnati. There he spends the winter studying English and the
Ottawa language. After five years of preaching to the natives of Michigan's
Grand River area, he moves on to Lake Superior where he will establish himself
at a series of locations. For Father Baraga home is wherever he is needed.
For a number of years the local Chippewa are
his only parishioners. He learns their language, administers to their needs,
converts them to the Church. When copper strikes bring in the white workers
by the hundreds, he will be forced to spread himself more thinly to also
tend to the spiritual needs of the Irish and German Catholic miners. He
establishes missions at Assins and L'Anse. Promoted to Vicar Apostolic of
Michigan he moves his headquarters to Sault Ste. Marie. Becoming a full
bishop in 1857 he will return in a few years to the Keweenaw, settling in
at Marquette. Traveling through his territory by schooner, canoe, dog team
and snowshoes, he is first at the Sault, next at Isle de Bois Blanc, then
Detroit, Little Traverse, back to L'Anse, on to Marquette, Eagle Harbor.
Never at rest he makes a trip back to Austria in 1836, where he fascinates
the wealthy with his tales of a howling wilderness, then returns to the
lakes with funds to carry on his mission.
He establishes convents, settles disputes, founds schools, mentors new priests
sent out from Europe and then fills in for those of them who prove unable
to match his endurance. But even he cannot go on forever. In January of
1868 he becomes ill, and on the 19th, serenely passes away. Along with his
missions he leaves behind a string of converts and wooden crosses, a dictionary
of the Chippewa tongue, his own name on a county and a state park, and a
legacy of selfless labor. "Well done..."
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor
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© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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