Frederic Baraga, the first bishop of Marquette, Michigan, was born on June 29, 1797, the son of John Nepomuc Baraga and Catherine Baraga. His family lived in Slovenia, then a part of the Austrian Empire. As a boy, Frederic learned French and German. His parents both died by 1812. He was then encouraged to attend the University of Vienna. Baraga studied law there and graduated in 1821. In 1817, he met Fr. Clement Hofbauer, who profoundly influenced him to become a priest. Baraga was ordained on September 21, 1823.
After working in the Diocese of Ljubljana to restore orthodox behavior and beliefs, Baraga read a booklet called “La Propagation de la Foi,” in which Native Americans pleaded for Catholic missionaries to “teach us how to live on earth.” In 1829, after much prayer and thought, Baraga petitioned to work as a missionary in the Diocese of Cincinnati. The Diocese then included the states of Ohio and Michigan and the Territory of the Hurons, to the west. In September 1830, he was finally approved to work as a missionary. On December 31, 1830, Baraga arrived in New York City. After a visit with Archbishop Whitefield in Baltimore (Maryland), Baraga left for Cincinnati, arriving on January 31, 1831.
In May 1831, Baraga arrived at Arbre Croche (Harbor Springs, Michigan). He labored there, eventually converting 547 Native Americans. Around September 8, 1833, Baraga headed to Grand River (Grand Rapids, Michigan) to found a new mission. There he converted about 200 Native Americans. In July 1835, Baraga headed to La Pointe, Wisconsin. There he labored for eight years, converting 981 Native Americans and whites. He also founded the L’Anse mission in the U. P.
Bishop Baraga ranks among leading authors in Native American literature. He composed the first Chippewa grammar. His Chippewa dictionary is considered the first ever published. He also wrote prayer books and catechisms in Ottawa, Chippewa, French, German, English, and Slovenian.
Through his efforts with the tribes and numerous publications, Baraga became well known to other missionaries. As a result, Baraga was nominated to become the new Bishop of Michigan in 1852. He was consecrated on November 1 of that year. His diocese included all of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, most of the Lower Peninsula, northern Wisconsin, and the area ending at the northern shore of Lake Superior. Baraga traveled constantly, as the weather allowed, to tend to his flock. Eventually, to ease the difficulty of communicating with his priests, Baraga petitioned to change the diocesan seat from Sault Ste. Marie to Marquette. This change was allowed in 1869.
Baraga died on January 19, 1868 in Marquette. In his 40 years of missionary work he had converted 25,000 Native Americans, written and translated numerous books, and endured great privation. He was known for his humbleness and love of the Native Americans. No missionary was more beloved and revered by Native Americans and whites than Baraga. A county, several towns and post offices, and a main street of Marquette are named in his honor. He was also immensely popular in his native Slovenia. (This information is from biographies on Baraga and the Catholic Encyclopedia.)
The Clarke has a number of books by and about Bishop Baraga.
The collection consists of copies of transcribed documents assembled from originals or photocopies in the U. S., Canada, and Europe by the Historical Commission of the Bishop Baraga Association. The goal of the Association is to the promoted the Cause for Beatification of Bishop Baraga.
An extensive list of the documents includes, for each item: date, name and location of author, and recipient and institution where the document is housed. This list was compiled by the Association in 1954 and is found after the finding aid. Transcripts are filed within the boxes in chronological order.
Most of the documents are letters from Baraga to other clergy about his mission work and aspects of Catholicism. Some letters are to his siblings. Material after his death includes a eulogy and letters from clergy about Baraga.