Tuesday, November 24


New Line Art from Matthew Alderman

Matthew Alderman. The Servant of God Frederic Ireneus Baraga, First Bishop of Sault Saint Marie. October 2009. Private Collection, Michigan.

Friderik Irenej Baraga (1797-1868), a Slovene aristocrat-turned-missionary, was educated in Vienna and ordained in Ljubljana and some years later, volunteered to serve as a priest to the fledgeling diocese of Cincinnati with its vast swath of Indian mission territory. A gifted linguist, he mastered the Ottawa and Ojibway languages and authored or translated theological texts (including the first book written in Ottawa and the first Biblical translation into Ojibway) in both tongues. Known as the "snowshoe priest" for his work during the harsh winters of Wisconsin and Michigan, he also worked hard to save his Indian charges from being relocated. In 1853, he was consecrated bishop and became the first bishop of Sault Saint Marie, now the diocese of Marquette. He continued to travel via snowshoe well into his sixties, and letters of his exploits may have inspired St. John Neumann to come to the fertile mission territory of the United States. He died January 19, 1868, and his body is buried in the crypt of his cathedral. A state park, a village, a township, and a county have all been named in his honor.

This image is owned by a young priest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and was commissioned as a gift by his seminarian friends. During the patron's time in the seminary, he did a great deal of missionary work among the Indians of Central America, hence the intrusion of the Guatemalan [correction: actually it is the national bird of El Salvador] torogoz bird (at lower left) into the snowscape. The diocesan arms are shown next to the torogoz, while the Bishop is shown holding his snowshoe (which is swiftly becoming his hagiographic attribute) and holding a copy of his translation of the Scriptures into Ojibway. The rustic framework is inspired by local vernacular architecture. A small figure in the distance, following the bishop's footsteps, shows the many priests who followed in the path of this trailblazing missionary of the north woods.

You can find out more about Bishop Baraga's cause for canonization here.

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