About the Author
I was not raised Catholic but brought to learn about Father Baraga through a series of events. This extraordinary series of miracles allowed for this site to be able to come forward. Please read about the story of how my research about Father Baraga unfolded.
Being baptized as a Christian
When I was 17 years old I learned of the gospel and joined a church choosing to be baptized. The life of Christ I couldn't put it down. While others my age were looking for a party to attend, I chose to wake myself up early each morning to go to classes to learn more about Christ and his life. I studied the scriptures on a daily basis learning about the life of Christ. I held leadership positions within the church and was a missionary teaching others about the gospel. After learning of Christ I knew that I wanted to live my life dedicated to God. Each Sunday I would attend church. I would get dressed in my Sunday dress, sit in the pews and listen to the people talk about their connection to Christ and how their lives were shaped by him. As I sat and listened I learned about faith, tithing, the gift of the holy spirit.
Through this church I built a heart-felt relationship with Christ. Although the church had taught me a great deal about Christ, the expectation within the church was that one was to build a personal relationship with Christ which could only happen through study of the scriptures and personal prayer. During that time I would read the gospel on a daily basis and then twice a day I will kneel down to pray to God and listen for his voice to bring comfort during my times of challenge, teach lessons when I was in need. Indeed the greatest teaching I received was this one. "Pray in earnest, for as you pray the heavens will pause and be attentive to your importuning. Make sure that you wait long enough to hear that reply. Over time my faith grew not just in the church itself, but in my personal relationship with Christ.
Heidi Swalve (the author) at Father Baraga's Cross two years after her initial visit in 2020.
A Twist of Fate
At the age of 27, one night I kneeled down to say my prayers as I always had. Prayers for me were something that were done from the heart. I would call on God, wait to know that he was there and was listening and then I would share about what I was grateful for and tell God the challenges that I faced and asked for help. This night was the first night that was different. For the first time I would have what others call 'a vision'. In this vision I saw a waterfall and I heard 'a voice' that said, "The man who you will marry will bring you to this waterfall. I saw the image of a two-tiered waterfall, one that I had never seen before. And then the image was gone.
After it happened I simply cast what just happened away. I chalked it up to my imagination and didn't pay any attention to what had transpired. In addition my part-time hobby was waterfall hunting. I would check out waterfalls all over my region and I knew that none like this existed. I went about my daily life without a second thought about this thing that happened to me.
Two weeks later I kneeled down to pray again as I did every night. As I was in the middle of prayers the same thing happened. I saw this waterfall in front of me and heard that same voice, "The man who you will marry will bring you to this waterfall." At this point I knew that it couldn't be 'me' that was creating this. I laughed it off the first time, but now this was the second time this showed up. I paid attention. "God...if this is you...show me the dimensions of the waterfall." In that moment I saw a silhouette of a man and woman walking out together. I knew that one was me, but the other I did not know, but I could tell he was taller than me and his general stature. I could also tell the dimensions of the waterfall.
Then one day I went to visit Minnehaha Falls. Some of the pathways at the falls were under construction so as I went to that location I had to find my way around the tape and signs in order to get there. I wondered what was happening there. I then found a bridge where no one could be found, jumped up and sat on the edge of it and watched the water flow underneath me. It was one of my favorite locations. A man and his wife were on the opposite side of the bridge. When I saw his wife go underneath the bridge I wondered if he knew what was happening at that location. I yelled out to him, "Do you know what is happening with the construction at the falls?" He walked over to me. I saw his wife come up from under the bridge and it turned out to be a man, his son. I felt instantly dismayed that I had asked the question. Nevertheless, maybe there was a reason that God put this man in my life to show up that day, so I talked.
He asked the question of me that day, "Do you know about the second waterfall that was here?" I said 'no', but did not press further. As I was talking with him as well I found out his son was looking for fossils on the stones there. As his son went down under the bridge I looked at him and randomly said, "You have to use your intuition. You can't choose the stone, the stone has to choose you. Look for the stone that chooses you." I didn't know where that random piece of advice came from but it worked. He looked at the water at the different stones and then saw one and picked it up. Sure enough this stone was filled with fossils and he brought it up from the water to look at. Then the man left and I was left with his son. We talked for a little while longer. I had a card in my purse from my church. I thought that maybe the whole purpose for this visit was so that this man and his son would become a member of the church. I gave him the card and wrote down my email on there.
Two weeks later I received an email from him. I then sent him a litany of information on my church. I was determined at this point knowing that God put him in my life to have him be there. He wasn't interested, but I persisted. He invited me over to his place and we talked for quite a while. Eventually, after another few weeks of discussion, I finally agreed to meet with him again...at Minnehaha Falls. This time though he brought me to the second waterfall. I remember the moment that I saw this waterfall hidden in the back of the falls. It was a two-tiered waterfall. I remember looking at the spot where I saw the waterfall, I looked at the waterfall, then I looked at him. "No....this couldn't be!" I did this about six times just standing there and staring. I knew right in that moment that this man would be in my life...I knew that I was to marry him. It was the first time that I had a vision and it was the first time that the vision came true. In his world, in all irony, he received the same signs and wonders...and then he knew he was to be with me as well.
I then started to work twice as hard to have him be a member of my church. He was not interested. I knew that in the end he had no desire to be a member. I was so incredibly confused but I was now faced with a decision. I had to choose between God and God. I had to choose between the God of the church that said that the way that I learned was the true way to God or I had to listen to the God that spoke to me individually. For weeks I was torn, completely torn. Finally, after going through my own personal dilemma, I chose to trust the God that spoke to me individually. I left the church and learned about his world. He would become my teacher as I set aside everything that I ever believed in. I had to trust that the path I was led onto was a path that God wanted me to understand. I would learn about Native spirituality.
A Life in the Native World
I remember the first time I was introduced to a sweat lodge. I sat in a chair around the fire. A Dakota man went and tended to the fire with a pitch fork as he moved logs around. I watched and listened to the people around me. I was clearly the outsider. In a sea of red skin I was one of the two people there that had white skin, myself and the person I was called to be with. Little was shared with me and I preferred it that way as I took in this location that was completely foreign trying to make sense of my surroundings. Then the door was opened to the sweat lodge. A blanket was thrown back and a cavern was unveiled that led into this black location. The light of the fire was the only thing that brought some clarity as to what was inside.
People got up from their chairs and I saw them get on their knees and crawl into this cavern. I was next. In my Sunday skirt I got on my knees. I followed the person in front of me. I crawled my way through the lodge along side of the pit to find my place on the ground where the other women sat. In my hands was a towel. It was the only thing that I was instructed to bring with me. I waited for what was to happen next. The elder said something and then these large stones were brought in and placed in front of me. A blanket was brought down outside of this cavern and the inside became 100% dark. There was no light to be found. The person who was to the left of the door then took some water and I heard the sizzle produced from the heated stones and I felt the wave of hot steam hit my face. This was not my way of being in the world. I was used to my Sunday church. In that moment as I covered my face with a towel trying to endure the heat and sweat I remember asking God in my mind..."God...why did you bring me here?" Little did I know what this journey would prepare me for.
Over the next ten years my life would completely change. The way that I had formally viewed the world would not be the same. My world where prayer was the way of accessing God would change as I looked around me. I watched the signs that nature gave, listened to the stones and the trees. A pinch of tobacco as a thank-you for the gifts that were offered was normal. Food was left out at the beginning of each meal for the spirits. I learned to identify bird feathers from all types of birds: grouse, pheasant, eagle, hawk. I learned about the Native pipe. I learned about caring for bundles. We had a sweat lodge on our property and I learned what it took to care for a lodge. I was a student to learn about the Native traditions and practices. I was a student and the person I was with was my teacher. I didn't speak of my Christian background during this entire time. I let go of my prayers and the reading of the scriptures to learn of a completely different way of being.
God wasn't a person to be accessed morning and evening and on Sunday's anymore. Listening to God and what he wanted for me in that moment became a 24/7 quest. I would listen to the nuances of what the Christian world would call the "holy spirit" or promptings. I would wait for peace to affirm what I was supposed to do. I would get random inklings and then I would follow them and see where they took me. I learned about what was considered "Indian time" which meant that one was simply to 'feel into' when they were supposed to leave for an event. It may be early, it may be late. In the end though whenever you arrived at these native gatherings, you were always 'on time'. No one was accused of being late and whenever someone arrived the gathering began. Magic happened in these moments and I saw God in a whole different light.
Suddenly the life of Christ actually opened up to me. Even though I didn't speak his name, I had so much more compassion for his walk. I understood that possibly His work with the water might have been more about his 'communication' with the water than his power over the water. I saw that when he was 'called' to go to different locations, that this may not have been strategy, but he was listening to God, truly trying to understand where God was to place him next. I understood that his healing cusped what I learned about healing in that world. When I sacrificed my food and water in a vision quest, Christ's 40 days in the desert became real and I wondered if he felt like I felt when I had the tiniest drink of water myself. Christ became real. I felt as though I was truly learning to live a 'thy will be done' life as I listened and prayed in earnest to know God's calling for me and to ultimately say 'yes' to whatever God put in front of me. The Native World changed my life.
My Ojibwe Elder & the Vision Quest (2017)
Do you want to go to vision quest? I sat at the table with some friends and my partner for breakfast. I still remember where I was sitting when this question was posed. "No...no way. There's way to much involved for that. I'm not prepared for that."
I knew what was involved with the vision quest. In the vision quest one sat alone in the wilderness with little more than a blanket and the clothes that they were wearing. You were out there for four days as you prayed to learn what God had in store for your life. It didn't end there. During those four days one fasted from food and from water. There were no showers, there was no hotel room...it was just you and your thoughts...and faith in God to get you through. In addition it was considered a four year commitment. This type of thing was not for the faint of heart. It was a serious dedication.
I knew after it was presented that there was no way that I could do this, but the thought pressed on me. Finally after some time I finally prayed about it. The answer was 'yes' and I groaned internally knowing that God for whatever reason I was supposed to go.
I was introduced to the person who would support me. She knew the protocols and what was required. About a week before the quest I started to put together what was needed. I made my prayer ties and prepared my prayer flags. I took out the Native pipe that I had carved along with the Sumac stem that was carried in the Pipe bag that I was gifted with my first pipe. I brought my blanket along as well. I packed up my other supplies that I would need before and after the quest and then I was on my way to Bear Butte where I would work with my Ojibwe elder who was going to put me on the mountain.
I remember seeing the mountain in the distance as I rounded the corner. It was majestic and stood out on it's own. For centuries the Native populations have come to this specific mountain to pray and participate in Vision Quest. Only with a traditional elder was one allowed to be on the mountain itself to pray. My elder happened to go out to that mountain every year for the past 25 years. He completed his vision quests on this mountain and soon he would allow for me to do the same. Soon I would be climbing the mountain finding the location where I was to sit and pray for the next four days.
My first day of the vision quest had finally arrived. I went to the location where I was to lay out my prayer ties and there was a knife that was laying there. Given that I was subject to nature, coyotes, etc. I was grateful for whoever had left it there as during that time I felt as though I had the comfort of protection against this unknown world. After the quest was over that year I brought the knife back down again to the camp and presented it to the person who was supporting me. "Thank you," I said and I told her that I was grateful for whoever left that up there and asked that she return it to them. "Oh no..." she said, "No one left that there for you. That was a gift from the spirits!" I was unfamiliar with what she meant by this and was still inquisitive as to whether someone else had left it there. Although I have asked around, I have found no one who has fessed up to leaving that knife there for me, but I wondered what the purpose of this individual knife was that for whatever reason was left for me. On it there was an inscription, "The Pioneer Woman". I wondered what that meant, brought it home and wondered if this would ever play a part in my life. I placed it in my office where I could see it and be reminded of that day.
The Chaplain who changed my world.
During this time of working with some of the Native people I had learned about the harm that was created in the Catholic Church amongst the Native populations. I was told first hand accounts of what the Natives experienced. I was beyond horrified by what I had heard. Given my understanding of the gospel, I knew that these things should have never transpired in the name of Christ. The boarding schools, forcing another to give up their language, their culture, their identity to force them into a new identity while then using the name of Christ to create abuse was everything that the gospel did not represent. After hearing these stories I had no desire to participate in the church. And then God again would have a different plan for me having me face the one place where I had the greatest resistance. The Native world would bring me straight into the Catholic world.
During that timeframe my relationship with my spouse had ended. While I was away for my second year on vision quest in August of 2018, I came back to find out that he wanted a separation. I knew based on the circumstances that I would need to find a different place to live and would need to start a different job at the same time. I started my job search and soon my new life would begin. I would now be on my own.
When I first heard about the job I actually groaned. I was given the opportunity to interview at a Catholic School. When I was in the waiting room for my interview I looked up and I knew from that one glance that even before the interview began I was going to get the job. There, written on the wall, were the words, "How are you a Pioneer?" In these moments there is somehow just a 'knowing' that happens internally. Anyone else would say, "It's a knife. It could mean anything." But that knife didn't mean anything for two years up until that moment. One cannot define it or describe it. I 'knew' based on that moment that...I would get the job. I sighed and went into the interview and I don't even remember what was said with the exception that I was asked if I went to a Christian Church...which I did. Right after the interview I was being shown around the school and before it my actual acceptance was confirmed.
The chaplain of the school sat next to me for the first time. I had never met a priest before and I could feel the immediate feeling of peace follow not long afterwards. It was unexplainable and filled my being. Knowing about the 'fruits of the spirit' I knew that it was impossible for someone to carry the feeling of peace and not be from God at the same time. This notion had me wonder then who this man could have possibly been and all the things that had transpired in the past of the Catholic Church. He said his name was "Father Kevin". I introduced myself. I was Heidi.
Over time I was able to learn more about the Catholic Faith. I went to mass. I was offered communion and as a Christian which filled my heart. This was for me the thing that was the most missed about going on the journey that I had been on and to be accepted in this way allowed for my heart to open more to the church. I could also see that he had a heart-felt connection to the gospel and that for me was something that was utterly important for anyone who was in the position to teach it. In addition I was able to share little pieces about myself and how the native world connected to the gospel. When he greeted me it was done with great enthusiasm and my thought was wondering if I greeted everyone else like this how they would then feel that they were special. I could see that he was devoted to the gospel in a beautiful way. I wished that there were opportunities for me to connect with him more so that I could learn from him, but I knew that the opportunities that I had were limited due to my working in a completely different department. None-the-less, I attempted to have utilize the different opportunities available and my heart continued to open to the religion.
After work he would leave the chapel open for me to pray which was the greatest place that I felt respite. After work I was able to just go to the chapel to sit and pray in solitude. It was the one time that I felt that I could breathe after the journey that I had been on and was continuing to go on. I could commune with the God that I knew to love and understand there. Often after work I would just go there and sit cross legged in front of the altar and share my deepest concerns with God. It was there that I was able to pour out my heart as I contemplated the journey that I was on. I couldn't understand why God brought me to these many differing locations. Everything felt disconnected and disjointed. And I noted that when I spoke to people about these other ways of life, often I was met with harsh judgement. When I went back to my old church once and told someone that I had spent time learning for the natives, they congratulated me on no longer being 'lost'. When I spoke to someone who was Catholic about my previous religion, they said that I must not have been Christian. When I spoke to someone Native about Catholicism I was told, "You know that those two don't get exactly get along, right?" Each road seemed separate from each other and at a glance everyone else would have been equally confused about why I had 'chosen' to go on those separate paths. But for me I knew that this was not a choice. If I heard my Shepherds voice, I would follow, no matter where that led me. In a song from my former faith it said, "I'll go where you want me to go, Dear Lord, over mountain or plain or sea. I'll say what you want me to say dear lord. I'll be who you want me to be."
In those moments in front of the altar I could ask the hard questions that I didn't have time for in mass and in a place that felt comforting and familiar. How could this God who supposedly loved all his children cause such challenges to the Native people? Why were they so misunderstood? Why if we are taught as Christians to care for the least of these can we then judge another from another culture so harshly? How could this chaplain carry peace while still representing this religion that caused so much pain? How can all these religions be so much at odds against each other? How can the Christian religion which teaches so much about peace create so much unrest? Why would Christ loose his life just to have others use his name for their own desires? How can help with this reconciliation when there is so much division? Why must so many people play tug of war over their viewpoints with others instead of there being equal sharing? Why is it that each culture or religion I am a part of say that they are the only way to connect to God and unknowingly creating these rifts and divisions between everyone?
One day when I was at home contemplating these things I saw my Native pipe. In my mind I saw myself bringing this pipe to the school and inside the chapel. When I saw that I felt immediate resistance. No way. There would be no one in their right might that would allow a Native pipe in a Catholic chapel. I then saw the image again. I said no again. The third time I saw it and I said, "Fine...okay...okay." This was living a 'thy will be done life' learning to discern the nuances of God's voice in your own life. That day, reluctantly, I brought the pipe to the chapel with me in the pipe bag. I kneeled down as I always did in front of the altar and prayed. For the first time I didn't know what to say. I prayed that God would somehow be able to reconcile these varying paths. I prayed that Christ and the Saints would be with me as I went on this journey. Even if I could not speak, they knew my heart. In that moment I prayed to as many Saints as I knew the names of at that time. I prayed to St. Michael, to Mary, to St. Peter, to St. Francis de Assisi (who I had just learned about) and many more. Each time I prayed to a Saint I prayed that they would bless the pipe. Tears rolled down my face with each person that I prayed to. I will always remember that day.
The Superior Hiking Trail
During this time at this Catholic School my mother and I were taught an Algonquin Water Ceremony from an Ojibwe grandmother on the northern side of Lake Superior. While at this school had decided that we were going to hike the Superior Hiking Trail and when we came across the streams and rivers that fed into Lake Superior that we would offer tobacco and say prayers at the smaller streams and then have the full water ceremony with the larger rivers. We ended up sharing this journey on Facebook which we dubbed the name, "Our Walk for Water." I told my manager at the school what my mom and I were doing. She said that as long as I didn't share the journey with anyone else, I would be okay to go which further reinforced the fact for me that the Native world and the Catholic world didn't connect. I had to keep this part of my life silent.
In order to prepare for the journey my mom and I decided to hike about 7 miles per day and completed an entire round of the SHT on treadmill first. We had our backpacks at this point and added gallon milk jugs to it filled with water. Each jug represented 8.34 pounds. Four of them would equal about what we would be carrying on our backs we determined. When my mom and I put on our 30 pound backpacks and groaned under the load. What were we thinking? We stared at the elevation maps of the Superior Hiking Trail and became more ambivalent about the journey. What could we expect? Could we even accomplish this feat? Even our seven mile a day training on the treadmills wouldn't prepare us for the journey ahead. In addition to our normal weight we had added our Algonquin Water Ceremony supplies consisting of shells, turkey fan, tobacco, sticks, dehydrated strawberries and more. We had our water, our food and our gear...and we were set.
That first year we trekked 180 miles of the trail on the weekends. Soon we became known at the mom and daughter team on the trail and we would meet people along the way that heard we were trekking together. At each stream we crossed, I took out a pinch of tobacco and placed it by the water. My mom did the same. We prayed. At the larger water ways we then took out our ceremony supplies and prayed with the water as well doing the traditional water ceremony. The song was sung in Ojibwe. Not more than a year later I would find these words strung in a dictionary of a person that I greatly admired. I have wondered often if Father Baraga heard us singing this song while we were on the trail.
Hey ya hey ya hey ya he
Hey ya hey ya hey ya ho
The Gift of the Native Pipe
I had one year of my vision quest remaining. Covid hit, my job at the Catholic School ended and I knew that it was my time to travel. I let go of my apartment wondering where I would end up. I then went to that last year of vision quest and prayed. I knew that it was my time to finish up the Superior Hiking Trail with my mom. I booked a campsite near Duluth to prep for that years journey unsure of where I would end up after that.
It was my fourth year of the vision quest and I wasn't sure what it would bring...but I knew I wanted to know where I was going to go. So I sat up there and prayed. I received two visions that year. The first was the image of what the Lakota called the "White Buffalo Calf Woman" who was the woman who brought them the Native Pipe....but I didn't know where I was to go. On top of it, the White Buffalo Calf woman in the image gifted me a small pipe in the image and said the words, "For the People." In this moment I argued. I didn't want a pipe! I already had one...I didn't need to have another pipe in my life, especially since I was traveling and didn't know where I was going. Carrying another pipe I decided was not an option. The second image that I saw was of a crossed pipe. I saw two native pipes with their bowls down and stems above it that created an 'X' being crossed one over top of the other.
When I got down from the mountain I was frustrated with God. I had just spent that time on the mountain praying for a vision and I didn't receive anything that told me where I was to go. I did not even have an answer as to whether I was to travel south...or north...or anything. I received nothing. Afterwards I decided to stop by a friends place in Pipestone, MN as another friend had asked me to drop off something over at their house. After staying at their home for the evening I felt like maybe I should go to their store afterwards and on the way back and little did I know but I would soon find my answer.
I went into the Pipestone Depot which was the original train-station in Pipestone where they had their native pipes, native crafts, etc. I felt like there was something there for me (again a traditional Native teaching) but I didn't see anything on my first time around. I decided to take one more look around. In that moment I looked in this case and right there in front of me there was this necklace. There were two pipes on it, crossed in the middle to form an "X". It was the crossed pipes on it just like I had seen in my vision. It was the first time I had ever seen that symbol. Right then I knew that something was about to happen and in my mind I said, "Ohhhh noooo." I remember those exact words going through my mind as I looked with wide eyes from the necklace to the right of me and there was Rona who was one of the owners of the store. She had her hands clasped underneath her chin and she was staring right at me. Then she said, "Bud and I were talking...and we were wondering if you wanted to stay down at the Depot?" I couldn't believe it. The vision quest was right. I found my next place to stay, but in addition to it, I was now working with the Pipestone which was one of the most sacred items for the Native people and it was exactly what was in the vision when I was handed a pipe and was told, "For the People." I would start right after my journey on the trail.
We were in our car traveling and I had posted on Facebook the next adventure that we were on. I was heading back up to Lake Superior to finish up the Superior Hiking Trail and were going to start our camping near Duluth, MN. Unbeknownst to us our friends had rented a cabin at Madeline Island for the exact same timeframe we were going to be in Duluth. Just after posting that we were going to head north to prepare for our trek we had received two invitations from our friends unknowing that the other had sent an invite to use as well. "Come join us!" "We have a cabin!". I cancelled our plans at the Indian Campground and decided to see Madeline Island for the first time.
It was incredible! Every morning my hiking companion and myself would trek through Big Bay Park with our backpacks through the various terrains. In the afternoon we would spend time with our friends as we traveled around the little 14 mile island on the north side of Wisconsin. Signs in the Ojibwe language would find us wherever we went. For such a small island, it was packed with opportunity.
One morning we were gifted the opportunity to be able to see what was called the "Indian Cemetery" on the southwest side of the island. It was a barren cemetery to a degree mostly overgrown with prayer ties and other articles tied to the fence that was around it. In front of it there was a large sign that talked about this Ojibwe named Chief Buffalo. On the opposite side of the parking lot there was this stone with a chain linked fence around it. I read the plaque. It was here that I was introduced to Chief Buffalo whose body lied still behind the picket pence that made up the cemetery boundary. Inscribed on little letters there was a talk about a first Catholic Church being built there. I took note of this stone and this cemetery in my mind and wondered about this first church.
This was the picture that I took at Madeline Island of the First Catholic Church. At that time I knew nothing about Father Baraga but I was curious about the first church was about.
There was one location in particular though that everyone was itching to see. It was the Madeline Island Museum. We waited until the last day to be able to see it. It was going to be the capstone of our trip. Excitedly we parked our cars which were fully packed to the brim with our belongings that we were ready to bring back on the ferry with us. We got out of our cars and walked up to the museum doors anticipating what would be inside. Instead we were greeted by a sole sign in the doorway, "Closed due to high winds." We looked at each other knowing that for whatever reason we weren't meant to see that museum and slightly sulking that the one thing we were itching to see turned out to not be open. We wished each other well, went back to our cars, and soon we were driving on the ferry which would take us to the opposite side of the mainland and my mom and I would be on our way to begin our journey.
Father Baraga's Cross?
I spent hours trying to come up with a plan on how we were going to go about our trek. In the end we just decided to play it by ear. We understood the challenges that came along with the trail and knew that at a moment's notice our greatest plan would be upended by unforseen circumstances. We packed up our gear prepared to go on the trail for our last remaining thru-hike.
Our thru-hike consisted of hiking three of four days with our packs and then stopping to re-up our supplies. Inevitably this re-upping of supplies would give us the gift of a hot shower. One cannot appreciate a good hot shower unless they are out in the winderness for several days at a time. Even the sign that was posted every once in a while that stated "Latrine" along our route was a welcomed gift. It certainly was much better than the few items that we could carry in our packs. This was not glamping. This was sweat and carrying our homes on our backs. It was the most amazing experience ever.
When we stopped to resupply we would go to this motel called "The Mariner Motel" which was in Silver Bay, MN. Each time that we would travel that way we would see this little sign on the side of the road that said, "Father Baraga's Cross" and each time we passed this sign we would say, "We have to go there!" Each time we would continue on our journey. Ultimately this would have to be a stop that would have to wait until the end. We had an agenda. We had another 160 miles to travel and didn't have time to make pitstops along the way. Nothing was going to stop us...except divine province.
This is the route my mom and I took that year through the Superior Hiking Trail. We had to re-up our supplies about three different times and kept seeing the "Father Baraga's Cross" sign on the opposite side of the road.
A run-in with Fate
My mom woke up one morning with a pain in both of her ankles. We had only 60 miles to go on the trail and had finished up 100 already and knew we weren't going to be stopping. Her ankles on the other hand told a completely different story. Soon she was dependent on her hiking poles to hobble herself down this rocky path. We stopped at a waterway and soaked her ankles in the cold water. It was not helping. We debated over how to be able to handle the situation. In the end we walked down this path towards the parking lot and were going to call a shuttle. We would go to the motel that we had, see a doctor, and then rest a bit. Maybe rest would in the end help the situation the most. We were going to try anything.
As we walked down the trail with our backpacks and hiking poles we stopped to take a look at the waterfall that was at the end of the trail. Both of us were at the opposite end of this platform. There was a man that was wandering in the same location as we were. He was in casual clothing but there was something that was unique about him and we were trying to figure it out. I would look at my mom and she would be looking at him. I then looked at him and he looked at us. What was it about him? After wondering we decided that it was just best to walk away.
We booked the room for a week and scheduled the doctors appointment a couple days out. It was the time just to rest up and to heal ultimately. When we got into the motel room there were double beds waiting for us. We took off our packs with our ceremony supplies and laid them on the ground. We then unpacked as much as we could and cleaned out the gear. We talked about what we were going to do during the mean time and of course we knew that this was the best time to visit this location that was only a half hour away from the motel. It was time to visit Father Baraga's Cross.
Covid...it made life interesting...but the next moment became even more interesting. We stepped out of our car anxious to see what this random place was all about...but before we could even get to the cross there was a familiar face! My mom noticed him and quickly greeted him, "Oh! Hello!" It was the man that we saw the day before at the waterfall. Suddenly his hand whipped up and covered his mouth and all we saw were his wide-eyes staring back at us! My mom the said, "We saw you at the waterfalls yesterday!" The next thing I remember is walking up to the cross and there I read the words on the cross for the first time.
"Father Frederic Baraga, learning of a possible epidemic afflicting the Indians at Grand Portage in 1846, set out in a small boat from Madeline Island in Wisconsin with an Indian Guide. An unexpected storm threated them but their lived were spared when they were blown over the sandbar and into the quiet mouth of Cross River. In thanksgiving they erected a small wooden cross at the site which was later replaced by this granite one."
Wait...what? Madeline Island? He was a Catholic Missionary? He worked with the Ojibwe? In that moment my heart opened up completely. After the most exhausting walk in my life there, in front of me, was a person that understood my two worlds! He lived with the Ojibwe! He was a missionary and understood the gospel! For the first time I had finally found someone who understood! I had to learn about this missionary. In this moment the walk that I had been on during my life suddenly made sense. The various roads I was led down now had purpose. I had to learn more about this man named Father Baraga.
As I was leaving the location wondering about Father Baraga the person who we had run into twice now crossed my mind. I knew that feeling. It was the same feeling that I had about Father Kevin. He had to have been a priest. He had that peace about him in the same way that the chaplain did from the Catholic School. I confirmed it with my mom. "He just has a different energy about him. It's like he's a priest or something." She agreed. I felt this pressing urge to find out to talk to him and looked at him. 'No, Heidi" I said to myself. The urge happened again. "No" I said one more time. I got in my car determined to drive away from the location. I felt the urge to go back, "No, God. I'm not talking to him!" Finally I drove up the top of the road where one turned to go to Father Baraga's cross and continued to feel the pressing. In absolute resistance I said, "Okay God...if you really want me to talk with him, he will have to be the next person to stop behind my car." I stopped and waiting looking in my rearview mirror. A few seconds later he pulled up behind my car. I groaned a little, put my car in park and walked out into the middle of the road approaching this poor man's car.
This was the picture that I took at Father Baraga's Cross that day with Lake Superior behind it. It was the day that my mom and I met Father Jeremy.
A Visit from the Other Side
He rolled down the window as I stayed a good distance away from him due to Covid. I couldn't figure out what to say. Why was I there? But this was my life. A thy will be done life was a 24/7 journey and this would end up being another part of it. He stared at me behind his half rolled down window inquisitively. "Hi. I just felt like I needed to talk with you." My mind was buzzing: What do I say? What do I say? "Are you a Father?" "Do you mean a priest?" I didn't think of the alternative at the time but realized that there was one! "Yes... Are you a priest?" "Yes, I am". "My hiking companion and myself were talking about you and we thought that might have been the case." I struggled to know how to continue. What was I there for? "Do you give mass?" "I just gave one at Grand Marais. Usually I'm in Hibbing." The struggle continued. "Do you give mass online?" I struggled to still understand the reason that I was there. "We are setting up to do this." I asked him if he had contact information. His name was Father Jeremy.
At this point I had had incredible things happen in my world. But this one took the cake. There is nothing that is able to describe to a person what this moment was truly like except humbling...truly, truly humbling.
We went back to the motel room to let my mom's ankle heal until her appointment. During that time I had the ability to look up Father Baraga and who he was. What was his ministry? What did he look like? I learned the basic information about him and saw pictures of him. I thought at the moment that he looked rather grumpy! I shared this with my mom as well as I pointed to a picture of him. After some very basic preliminary research I set it down. I didn't find myself too impressed.
The next day my mom and myself were sitting on the side of the bed facing each other. We had decided to have the conversation about the priests that I had known in my life. I still couldn't figure out why it was that I felt such a pressing need to talk with the priest at the cross. We were in the middle of discussing how priests felt, why they had peace and now that I've had that experience with two of them how to be able to describe that with others who may not understand those things. The chaplain that I knew at Catholic School I worked at once said to me that he wasn't able to understand this so I knew that not everyone had that ability. I tried to come up with some analogy to be able to describe it. I said maybe I could describe it as vanilla. Vanilla has a smooth and calming flavor to it. All people understand the flavor of vanilla. I talked about how the priest that I knew from the school I worked at had that feeling to him. This other priest had the same feeling about him with just a little bit of chocolate mixed it. They were just a hair different.
As I was trying to describe the difference between this chocolate and vanilla all of a sudden I felt this complete wave of energy come into the room. I was completely caught off guard. Startled by it I announced out loud loudly, "Whoa! Who just came into the room?" In that moment I was feeling around and knew that this person was to the left of me. After I gained a moment of my composure back again I looked up at my mom and realized that she was looking to the left side of me where I felt the energy. She was not looking at me at all. She was staring what looked like towards the window. Suddenly then said, "It's Father Baraga". I quickly responded in a stunned voice and said, "Why is Father Baraga in our motel room?!" She then said as she still looked in that direction, "He's a lot shorter than I expected him to be."
It was then that I started to verbalize the many possible different reasons. I started to talk about Madeline Island and the stories that we heard there. Maybe it was about healing some of that location? I talked about what we were conversing about and only remembered that we were discussing chocolate and vanilla. Maybe it was about trade my mom suggested. Why would a man choose to come into the other I couldn't come up with anything definitive but I had started a list in my mind and then wrote it down quickly on paper afterwards.
I asked my mom later about information about him. She said he was wearing an overcoat with hair down to his shoulders. It was wavy. The overcoat was buttoned, but I do not know the details of what it looked like. She said that it was longer so that she was unable to distinguish how long his legs actually were. It was an old style dress. I asked her what he was doing when he came into the room. She said he just looked back and forth between us. He was listening to what we were sharing. He was calm in his composure as he listened. He did not speak. He just listened.
Then while discussing this some more all of a sudden we heard this really sharp noise that sounded like a loud cracking sound. I said, "What was that?" My mom said, "It was the neighbors". I put my hand on the cold wall to the right of me and said, "It can't be the neighbors. This wall is concrete!" Father Baraga had at that point left the room.
Had it been just me, I may have questioned the experience. Given that two people were able to validate the experience, I knew that it had meaning. He had definitely appeared. Now this wasn't just curiosity anymore. I had a responsibility. Somehow I knew that this man had chosen me to be able to learn about him and my world would be forever changed.
These were the notes written right after Father Baraga appeared.
The Chaplain's Return
We went back home several days later. I had gone to the bookstore to purchase several books. I had to learn, I had to study, I had to understand what the purpose of his visit was. My first quest was to be able to research Father Baraga's Cross and this seemed to be obviously an important location. I wanted to remember the year as I knew this would have importance. I decided instead of going through my pictures that instead I would do a quick google search to find out what the plaque said. I then scanned through the pictures and my heart sank. There were relatively few pictures of people who had stood by the cross, but one was an image of a man that I knew. I looked at the picture without clicking on it yet and said, "No....there's no way." I had to have been wrong. This couldn't be him. But it was. There, standing in front of me, was the Chaplain that I knew from the Catholic School. I turned to my mom and said, "You're not going to believe this." She said, "What?" I then opened up the picture for her. She knew of the whole story and the challenges that I had at the Catholic School I was at. I said, "He was at the cross." She looked and said, "Why did he go to the cross." I said, "No, mom. He went on a pilgrimage for Father Baraga in 2018. I walked away. There was no way that this could have been him...but it was.
I then went down to Pipestone, MN to start working for Bud and Rona. I would study Father Baraga in the beginning of my day and start putting together the website. It was a place for me to keep track of the dates, the books I was reading, the maps, etc. so I could go back to it for reference if I needed to. One day I was studying a book about William Warren who was 10 when Father Baraga first met him at Madeline Island. I was excited to find this information about him and had decided to tell Bud about the find. Bud himself was Ojibwe so I could share the stories that I came across with him and he could share more about what life was like at the reservation. I then told him about William Warren and Bud responded, "Yeah, I know him." I said, "Wait! How do you know him!" He looked at me and said, "He was my relative." I said, "What?! What do you mean? How many people that I am reading about are you related to?" He went through the list of people and I said, "Why am I studying your relatives!!"
Around that same time I decided to make the phone call I had been putting off. I wanted to understand who this Father Jeremy was and to understand why I felt so inclined to talk with him. Finally I got up the nerve to be able to ask some more questions. I called him and he answered. I introduced myself as the woman who stopped in front of his car at Father Baraga's Cross. I would be rather unforgettable in that way. I told him that I had often thought of that day and he said he did as well. I said that I was trying to figure out why that happened and I wondered if part of it was needing to learn from him so I asked him the question, "Do you teach about the Catholic Religion?" He said, "No." I then asked if he had videos. He said he didn't. I asked if he went to church in the area maybe. No. It was a brick wall every question I asked. I couldn't figure it out. I decided to start just sharing about the story. Well I first learned about Catholicism when I worked at a Catholic School. He then interrupted and asked, "What Catholic School did you work at?" I shared with him the name of the school." He then was gleeful on the other end of the phone. Do you know the Chaplain there? I said, "Yes, it's Father Kevin." He said, "Yes, I went to seminary with him briefly." I then said, "You have got to be flipping kidding me!" loudly and he chuckled.
These are the moments to me that validate that God directs our lives. These things testify that we are not alone wandering in this universe and left unattended by the divine. Saints live, they are real as this story testifies. There are too many 'coincidences' that would otherwise prove to be impossible to achieve if left to human calculation. This is what it means to live a 'thy will be done' kind of life and the results that are obtained from it.
What are the chances that Father Baraga would appear when I happened to be talking about the two priests that I had met? What are the chances that this one priest who I was talking about also happened to complete an entire pilgrimage for Father Baraga who appeared that I wouldn't know about until after I started to do research on Father Baraga and after his appearance? What are the chances that the person that I met at the cross that day I would meet a second time in that same week? What are the chances that I felt inspired to talk with him and would end up stopping my car in front of his car in order to have that conversation? To ask him if he was a priest dressed in plain clothes? What are the chances that this same priest who I talked to also went to seminary with the priest that introduced me to Catholicism? Who was being talked about when Father Baraga appeared? And who also happened to be the person that was at that very same cross that I was called to go to and where Father Jeremy went to? What are the chances? But the story doesn't end there...
After about six month of working in Pipestone I found a permanent residence in the cities. I was grateful, after a long extensive time wandering through various locations, to be able to find a resting place that I could call home. I wanted to find a church in the area and went to several. The pastor there was incredibly kind and I was finally able to share some of the experiences that I had learning about the Catholic Faith. He did not brush aside what the church did and welcomed me to the church itself. I still had a challenge with being there though. I was studying the Native world and what the church had done. I knew that the work that I was doing could be considered controversial. I knew that some might see it as taking on the church itself. I hesitated. I wrote to the pastor and mentioned the work that I did. I told him that if for any reason this causes challenges in the church I said that I would have no problem if I needed to leave. I didn't know how to walk this balance anymore. I wanted to learn because Father Baraga appeared, but I also knew that the church and the Native population didn't get along by any means. But I would see the division grow even wider.
I was working around my home one day when I saw this image in my mind. It was of a black gravestone made of granite. It was one that protruded out of the ground at an angle. There were words that were engraved in this gravestone that make it look as though they were etched in white. "In remembrance of all the Native children that lost their lives at the boarding schools." It was a random vision that just came out of nowhere. I wondered what it had meant.
That weekend I went to a sweat with some friends. While inside everyone was saying their prayers and they all kept mentioning the desire to have healing for the children. Another person would speak and mention the prayers for the children. The entirety of the circle had spoken. I had no idea what they were referring to. When the lodge was complete I laid outside in the grass. There was a friend laying next to me and I had to ask the question. "What was everyone talking about in there when they were mentioning the children." He responded back, "Didn't you hear? They discovered 215 children's bodies outside of a residential school in Canada." I laid on the grass as I took in that information and thought about the vision that I had earlier that week. "In remembrance of all the Native children who lost their lives at the boarding schools."
After that moment I knew that there was a great need for healing from these pasts. I didn't know how this would all take place, but I knew that it was needed. But in this moment I saw the divide between the work that I was doing and what was being brought forward grow even wider.
The Miracle of Pope Francis
Despite all this I continued my research on Father Baraga. I started to put more pieces together about his world and what was happening in the Native world. Then in April of 2022 the impossible happened. I saw Pope Francis walk up to the front of the public eye and say that the "Indigenous Peoples and the Church: Walking together toward Healing and Reconciliation." It was a national address. I stared at the screen as I watched him and said again, "No...way!" There was Pope Francis, creating a miracle, right in front of my eyes. Then I watched the Native people congregate in the Vatican. I saw them in their headdresses. Then I saw the Native pipe and I cried. In that moment I remembered my own prayer in that small chapel. I remembered bringing the pipe in there and feeling so uncomfortable. And now...one of these pipes was in the Vatican accepted in there by the Pope himself. I heard them say there prayers to the four directions and describe it to the general population. Their prayers were accepted. I couldn't believe my eyes.
Then two months later the Pope did what he called a Pilgrimage for Penance. In my mind right before this pilgrimage I saw a Cathedral, one I had never seen before. I didn't know what this Cathedral was about. When following Pope Francis throughout this journey I stopped and I couldn't believe my eyes. There was the Cathedral that I had seen in my mind. It was called "St. Anne de Beaupre" Cathedral in Quebec. That was the Cathedral. I watched as I saw the banner strung out before the general population, "Rescind the Doctrine of Discovery."
I still remember the moment when I saw Pope Francis in front of this Cathedral. I paused the video and just stared at it. This was the exact basilica that I had seen in the vision. It astounded me so much to see that basilica in the video that I had to get up and walk around my house several times. This was the only Cathedral I'd ever had a vision of and now Pope Francis was there...on behalf of the Native populations. I said, "God...what is this?". I have had so many of these moments unfold in this journey, but in this moment I had a difficult time processing what the purpose of all of this was.
Now this banner in front of St. Anne's has importance. This banner that was about rescinding the doctrine of discovery. Pope Francis now took another step forward in helping to repair what has for centuries been talking about by the Native Populations. It was on of the things that was consistently on the tongues of those who knew the influence that the Catholic Church had on the Native populations. The Pope then just recently repudiated this doctrine of discovery which banner was waved at this location. I knew how important this was to the Native populations.
The journey continues on behalf of the Native populations to be able to help right that wrongs that have happened to them over time. My prayer is that I can continue to be an instrument in God's hands to be able to help these things to come about. I'm grateful for Pope Francis who showed the world that what I thought was impossible was possible. He brought the Native Pipe into the Vatican. He had allowed them to express their culture and their backgrounds while he shared his sorrow and grief over what had transpired. He shared his appreciation for their viewpoint of thinking seven generations ahead for any action that is taken. The work for them continues and I am grateful...to somehow...be a part of this amazing time.
The Meaning of the Journey
This man came to visit the one woman who truly loved the native people and cared so much about them and their culture and was willing to research the one side of the histories that so few had learned about. He visited a woman who loved Christ with all her heart and knew what happened should have never happened. Father Baraga's Dictionary is one of my favorite places to peruse to learn more about him. It is the words that he felt were the most important. It shows the connections that he has to the Native cultures. I remember one day as I was going through this dictionary and I was reading in the A's. I saw the word for apparition in there. He followed it up with "See Vision." Then the next word down had the word appear. I read the sentences he constructed below it, "I appear" followed by the Ojibwe word. "It appears" followed by the Ojibwe word. "I appear so" followed by the Ojibwe word. And then on the next sentence I stopped, "I make myself appear, (in a vision,) nin nâgwiidis. I stopped and just laughed. Father Baraga knew exactly what he was doing.