Sunday, November 01, 2009

Bishop Baraga and St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral

The first cathedral, albeit a temporary one, on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Sault Ste. Marie Michigan.

Its first bishop was Frederic Baraga, a Slovenian priest who came to came to the Upper Peninsula to serve as a missionary in 1831.

Baraga was fluent in eight languages, including two Native American tongues, and wrote a grammar book and dictionary in the Ojibwa (Chippewa) and a prayer book in the Ottawa language. He converted thousands of Indians to Christianity and was a stout defender of the tribes even as whites overwhelmed the U.P.

Although he was based in L'Anse, on the Keweenaw Peninsula, Baraga was named the Bishop of St. Mary's Church in Sault Ste. Marie in 1857. That structure was a log cabin.

The winters are long and snowy on the Upper Peninsula, and in Baraga's time the only reliable way to travel during winter was on snowshoes, which is why the bishop is still known as "the Snowshoe Priest." Baraga journeyed on snowshoes well into his sixties. Besides northern Michigan, Baraga's missionary work brought him to Ontario and Wisconsin.

As the western half of the Upper Peninsula became populated with mining communities, a new cathedral, with Baraga as bishop, was consecrated in Marquette in 1866.

The current St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral was consecrated in 1881.

Related post:

Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan sunset

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