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A Note from the Author

Photo of Pipe Bag at Father Baraga's Cro

The author standing on the rocks next to Father Baraga's Cross in September of 2022, almost 2 years after her first walk up to the cross.  

Heidi Swalve

Author & Researcher

When I first walked up to Father Baraga's Cross in September of 2020 I read the cross and knew instantly that I wanted to know more about Father Baraga: he was a Catholic Missionary who lived with the Ojibwe Natives.  I myself was a Christian, had just worked at a Catholic School where I learned aspects of Catholicism and had also spend significant time learned from Native culture and traditions from Native teachers, my primary teacher being Ojibwe.  Father Baraga made sense of these two worlds.  

In the Ojibwe world I was invited to participate in vision quests, have attended countless sweats and even had the experience of carving my own pipe.  This pipe is carried in the bag shown in the picture here.  Prior to walking up to this cross I was actually walking along the western side of Lake Superior and prayed with the waters singing the water song in Ojibwe.  Not more than a couple of days after doing this work with the water I walked up to and learned about Father Baraga's Cross for the first time.  


Previous to learning of the native customs for ten years of my life I was a devout Christian.  I had spent time as a missionary, volunteering in my church and participating regularly in church activities.  I read the scriptures on a daily basis and prayed every morning and evening.  The church that I learned from taught me the beauty of the gospel of Christ.  It was not unusual to find those who were in leadership positions tear up when speaking of Christ.  I still have these moments when I tear up thinking of all that Christ has given to us during his walk and ministry. 

In addition to the journey that I had just had with the water ceremony I had also just spent time at Madeline Island which was also written on the plaque.  This is the location that Father Baraga left in order to attend the Ojibwe and I knew that this location was quite a distance from Father Baraga's Cross due to my attendance there.  I wondered why he was at that particular location as I knew nothing about Father Baraga at the time.  After visiting Madeline Island at a later date I found out that there was a museum there where many of Father Baraga's items were located.  This museum was ironically closed due to high winds on the island while I was there and I was unable to see or learn anything about Father Baraga at the time.  

This moment and this experience of him threw me into wanting to understand Father Baraga more and his work with the Ojibwe.  I couldn't not study him at this point as I knew that there was importance behind his visit.  I wanted to be able to understand Father Baraga's relationship with the Ojibwe.  I wanted to know the context of what was happening with the Ojibwe natives at that time.  I wanted to see the world from a different perspective understanding the whole of his and the Ojibwe's lives at that time.  I started to understand the reality of what he and the Ojibwe had to endure at that time and his meaning to the Ojibwe. Through this research Father Baraga became real to me.  I could step into the snowshoes he was walking in, see what the shores of Lake Superior looked like at that time and understand what everyone in that region had to endure as settlers started to encroach in the region.  

Father Baraga's Cross Plaque (New).jpg

Inscription at Father Baraga's Cross which shares his journey with the Ojibwe and his connection to Madeline Island.


Given my work in the past with the Native communities I also know the histories that took place after Father Baraga's passing in regards to the boarding schools.  I can say without a doubt that when I first embarked on this journey of discovery that I was nervous about what I would find but I had to trust the he appeared for a reason.  What I found brought joy to my heart.  His presence and his work has also shown in the way that the Ojibwe Catholics not only hold to their traditional beliefs, but that they also have found a way to braid in Catholicism and the gospel of Christ into their traditions as well.  Walking into the L'Anse chapel where the medicine wheel was inlaid on their floor and a picture of Father Baraga stood in the entry brought so much joy to my heart.  I knew that there was medicine in this.  There was healing.  

Father Baraga, knowing my heart, also knows how important the Ojibwe are to me.  I had time working down in Pipestone, MN amongst the quarries.  I had time to learn and understand important parts of their traditions.  I had the opportunity to be immersed in understanding the meaning and importance of the pipe.  Because of my love for the Natives Father Baraga also knew how important the Truth & Healing initiative is to me.  I know that as a Christian such harm should have never transpired using the name of Christ and went against all the principles and precepts that Father Baraga sought to instill amongst the Ojibwe.  

I am beyond grateful to Pope Francis, who has made the first mark in attempting to help heal these past wounding.    Father Baraga's legacy is not about not facing what has transpired in these histories that followed his death, but rather about others understanding what it really means to care for the native populations and what it means to be Catholic in this way so that we can pave a different path for the future.  In this way, Father Baraga's snowshoe prints are large for those that wish to follow him.  It is not just about speaking about the gospel of Christ, it is about living the gospel of Christ and caring for those in their hour of need.  

Please feel free to search this website to understand how the Catholic histories of Father Baraga's life and the Native Histories at that time correspond.  Father Baraga was of course a Catholic missionary that sought to bring forward the gospel of Christ.  He did it at a time when the Ojibwe eagerly wanted to hear of the gospel and also during a time when the Ojibwe could feel the respite of the gospel of Christ as they endured the torrents of the world that sought so much to take of their land and livelihood. 

Thank you Father Baraga for helping to preserve the native lands.  Thank you Father Baraga for teaching a way of bridging the cultures.  Thank you Father Baraga for helping the natives during their greatest time of need.  Thank you for showing us the way as to how to be better Christians in this world as we seek to live and exemplify the gospel of Christ and truly care for our brothers and sisters from all walks of life.  

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