Frederic Baraga was born on June 29, 1797 at Malavas near Dobrnic in Slovenia. He studied law at the university of Vienna and theology at the seminary of Laibach. He was ordained to the priesthood on September 21, 1823. After having served as assistant priest in a few parishes, in 1830, he went to the United States as a missionary, the first missionary sponsored by the Leopoldine Society.
He already spoke several languages, among which were German, French and English. He studied the Saulteux language in Cincinnati and in 1831 began to exercise his ministry among the Indians and the white population engaged in the fur trade around Lake Michigan. He worked at Crooked Tree (1831-1833) and Grand River, Michigan (1833-1835), at La Pointe (1835-1843) and L’Anse, Wisconsin (1843-1853). He subsequently became bishop of Upper Michigan with residence in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan from 1853 to 1866 and then bishop of Marquette from 1866 until his death on January 19, 1868.
He engaged in missionary journeys in the northern area of Lake Huron and Lake Superior in the region which initially was a part of the diocese of Quebec, which came under the Bishop of Kingston in 1837, then that of Toronto and finally that of Hamilton. He regularly visited the Indians of Sault Sainte Marie in Canada. Everywhere, he was greatly loved by the Indians. He had a great impact on the missionaries working among the Indians in Canada.
Baraga and the Oblates
Bishop Baraga was a prolific writer; many of his writings were published. In the Bibliotheca Missionum (Aachen 1927), Father Robert Streit, o.m.i., listed 33 works. Two of these were especially useful for the Oblates: Une Grammaire en langue sauteux, which appeared in 1850 and a dictionary in the same language, which appeared in 1853.
While he was a missionary in Pembina (North Dakota) in 1851 and still a diocesan priest, Albert Lacombe wrote a letter to Bishop Loras in Dubuque in which he mentioned the works of Baraga in the Indian language. In 1859, Fathers André-Marie Garin, Régis Déléage and Jean-Marie Pian, missionaries to the Indians of the Bay James area were already using the works of Bishop Baraga in the Amerindian language, especially the dictionary and the sermons that Father Garin translated from Otchipwe to Maskegon for use among the Amerindians of Albany. These sermons were published again in 1939 by the Oblates of Manitoba (Canadian Publisher of Winnipeg). The grammar and the dictionary in the Saultaux language were re-edited by Father Albert Lacombe in 1878-1880.
It seems Bishop Baraga never had the occasion to meet any Oblates, but he wrote at least one business letter to Bishop Taché on March 16, 1856 and another to Bishop Bruno Guigues, the bishop of Bytown on August 1, 1860, asking him to send him a few missionaries. The cause for beatification of Bishop Baraga is being studied in Rome at the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
McGivern, J. S., “Baraga, Frederic”, in Dictionnaire
biographique du Canada, Vol. IX, from 1861 to 1870, University of
Toronto/Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 1977, with bibliography.
Montmigny, G. J., o.m.i., “Bishop Frederic Baraga and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate”, in Vie Oblate Life, 52 (1993), p. 286-297, with bibliography.