Father Baraga's Apparition
I understand that I have the potential of being judged for the following story which I wish to relate. Nevertheless, I cannot disregard this experience of how this experience has propelled me into learning about Father Baraga. In this way I am compelled to share this story as it underlines the intention and purpose of the entirety of this research. This journey began at a location called "Father Baraga's Cross".
At the time that I went to Father Baraga's Cross initially I had no idea who this man was. Reading about how he was Catholic and connected to the Natives of the region intrigued me. Him coming from Madeline Island intrigued me more because that was literally the island I was just on at the start of the trek. It was my first time ever visiting the island. These three pieces had me want to do a small amount of curious research on him. What happened afterwards would forever propel me to learn about him and to try and understand why he decided to choose me in particular to share of this message.
In September of 2020 my hiking companion and myself decided to complete our trip to the Superior Hiking Trail. The SHT is a 311 mile trail that follows along the western side of Lake Superior from Wisconsin to Canada. We had completed 177 miles the previous year and had decided to do a thru-hike to complete the rest of the trail. We started our journey at Madeline Island to prepare for the trek not knowing anything about Father Baraga. We then completed 75 miles of the thru-hike until we had to stop due to an ankle injury. I didn't realize that this moment of rest would forever change the course of my life.
Madeline Island, WI
We were in our car traveling and I had posted on Facebook the next adventure that we were on. I had just finished my fourth year on what is called a 'vision quest' in the native world and I was heading up north with my hiking companion to prepare for our intense walk on the Superior Hiking Trail which takes one from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs on the western side of Lake Superior. We had rented a location to prepare for our journey at the Indian Point Campground in Duluth. Unbeknowst 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!".
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. The location itself was unassuming with only a sign in front of it and a random chain linked fence in a square around a stone in front of the sailboats that lined the marina. It was here that I was introduced to Chief Buffalo whose body lied still behind the picket pence that made up the cemetery boundary. It was here that I was introduced to the "First Catholic Church" of Madeline Island on the opposite side of the black pavement that we were standing on. This small stone that contained this small plaque marking this location would be passed up in the moment as just a stone. The name on the stone would have no significance or merit at that time.
On the last day the group finally had the opportunity to be able to visit the location that we had wanted to see the entire time: The Madeline Island Museum which was filled with the histories of the island. We walked up to the museum doorway on the last day and read a sign, "Closed due to high winds". Upon reading the sign all of us looked down in dismay.
"Well...I guess this is the end of the journey." It was at that moment we decided that the time had come for us to get into our vehicles, board the ferry and watch the little island disappear behind us.
Superior Hiking Trail, MN
After Madeline Island my hiking companion and myself started our journey by first overnighting at Lake Vermillion and then heading to the beginning of the Superior Hiking Trail the next day. As part of our journey we also brought along Ojibwe water ceremony supplies. With each river or stream that we passed we honored the water that fed into Lake Superior and for the major bodies of water we sang the Ojibwe water song "Nibi Wabo" that was taught to us by a grandmother who lived on the northern side of Lake Superior.
Every few days we needed to resupply and get a hot shower which would require us to go back south again to Mariner motel. Each time we would pass the little sign on the highway that would say "Father Baraga's Cross". Each time we passed this sign both of us would say, "We have to go there." "I don't know why but we just have to stop there." Each time we continued to go to our next starting location and would just pass it up. We didn't have time to make a stop.
After 75 miles into our journey my hiking companion got a pain in her ankle that would not cease. We had to deliberate about what to do but ultimately we decided that getting off the trail and resting for a few days might be just the remedy that was needed.
Cascade Falls, MN
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. 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. My hiking and companion and myself both looked at this man and wondered who he was. Ultimately, we ended up just walking away.
We got a motel room again at the Mariner Motel in Silver Bay, MN so that she could get the rest that we anticipated and to check in with the local medical facility to see what was happening with her ankle. The next day we decided that maybe a little walk would help.
We unloaded our backpacks into the basic room that had two queen beds in it. Both of these beds had the pillow resting near the brick wall with a space of about four feet between the two beds which was just enough room to put a small dresser. The beds were clad with a decadent flowers that stenciled the blanket.
As we heard the sound of the luggage hit the floor the sound threw an obvious note that we were not on the trail anymore. The sound of the quiet of the room was quite the contrast to the sound of the Cascade Falls that we just passed as we were on the way to our cars. We sat on the beds trying to determine what to do next. What is happening? How long does she need to heal? We decided that maybe walking would help. So we decided to go out for some short treks and see if this would work.
Father Baraga's Cross
As we started up the cross we were surrounded by Lake Superior. My hiking partner shouted out "oh hi!" to someone who instantly covered their face with their hand. It was the time of Covid and everyone was advised to not be around anyone. He was a familiar face from the day before and just happened to be the same man that we had seen at Cascade Falls the day before. He said 'hi' and we quickly parted ways.
My hiking partner and I walked up to the cross and there read the words for the first time that was on the plaque:
"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."
My mind was instantly intrigued...Madeline Island... I wanted to know more about this man. I wanted to understand who he was. I was not Catholic although I worked in a Catholic School, but I was Christian. I also was not Native, but I had an understanding of who they were due to spending a lot of time learning their ceremonies and ways. I wanted to know more about this man. I wanted to understand who he was. He understood both of my worlds.
As I was leaving the location the person who we had run into twice now crossed my mind. Who was this man? I talked with my hiking companion about him. "He just has a different energy about him. It's like he's a priest or something." "Yeah...I think he's a priest." We would have never known by his casual clothing that this is who he was. I felt this pressing urge to find out to talk to him. I said no and drove out of the parking lot of the cross. Even then I still felt this pressing urge to talk with him. Finally, at the stop sign, before taking a left to go back to the motel 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." A few seconds later he pulled up behind my car. I groaned a little and got out to find out who he was.
I stepped to the left of his car and he rolled down the window as I stood there trying to figure out what to say. "Hi. I just felt like I needed to talk with you. 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 your energy was that." 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." At this point he wrote down his contact information on a small piece of paper and I wrote the note at the top of it afterwards to remember what the contact information was about and I drove away.
Father Baraga's Appearance
We went back to the motel room to let my hiking companions 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? What years was he here. I was intrigued. I saw pictures of him and showed pictures of him as well to her.
Then that night my hiking companion and myself were sitting on the side of the bed facing each other. We were discussing the priest that I met at the cross as well as the priest that I knew at the Catholic School that I worked at. We were discussing their energies, how we knew the Father energies that we met there and the energy of priests in general. I was talking about how to describe this to other people. I said that the only way I could come up with was to talk about flavor. 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 just a little bit of a different energy...like chocolate mixed in.
As I was in the middle of talking about this 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, "Whoa! Who just came into the room?" In that moment I was feeling around for where this person person was to the left of me but I could not determine the exact location of the person. Had Father Baraga not appeared in this way, I may not have paid attention to the presence at all but rather brushed it aside as just another feeling in this world. His full-fledged presence instead had me sit at attention and would ultimately become the knowing that I have internally that he was actually there.
After I gained a moment of my composure back again I looked up at my hiking companion 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 she said, "It's Father Baraga". I quickly responded in a stunned voice and said, "Why is Father Baraga in our motel room?!"
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 hiking companion suggested. I couldn't come up with anything definitive but I had started a list in my mind.
As we were discussing the reasons Father Baraga stood looking at the two of us as we had conversation trying to determine why he would be in the motel room with us. He was wearing an overcoat with hair down to his shoulders. He had on a long shirt so that the size of his legs could not been seen. It was an old style dress. His wavy hair was down to his shoulders as he stood in the room just listening as we spoke back and forth between us. 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 hiking companion 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. This was the moment that I had to learn more about this man. For a 'soon to be Saint' to enter into a room to visit a particular person for me was no small deal and I was going to show him that I wasn't going to take it lightly. I wanted to understand what he had to say. It was at this point that I was determined to learn of his and the Ojibwe's histories.
These were the notes written right after the event occurred.
Post Father Baraga's Apparition
We went back home several days later. I had gone to half priced books and purchased "Catholics for Dummies" as well as other books to help me understand the histories and what this was about. I started to learn about the timeframe of his life. It was at this time that I tried to take a shortcut and instead of going to my pictures of the cross to learn the date, I found it would have been easier to discover the date by just doing a google search for "Father Baraga's Cross."
When I started to go through the pictures I was stunned to see a familiar face. It turned out that the other Father I was talking about when Father Baraga appeared was staring right back at me. It was the chaplain of the school that I worked at. It turned out that he was there at the cross as well two years prior in 2018. He had done a 150th Anniversary pilgrimage for him at the boundary waters and had honored him by caring for the cross itself. It was then that I remembered that the chocolate and vanilla were about these two Fathers who just happened to have paid a visit to this very same cross that I was at not more than a couple of weeks earlier. There are no such things as coincidences... just small acts of God. Father Baraga knew of his timing as well.
Father Baraga's Affirmation
On a funny note, as I was going through and writing Father Baraga's Dictionary so that I can translate his Ojibway books I was writing in the A's. I am recording myself as I go through so that someday, hopefully, I will be able to speak the language as he has recorded it and compare it to the current teachings of the language to note the similarities and differences. As I was writing I noted what he wrote in his dictionary and how he phrased it.
Apparition. See Vision
I appear, nin nâgwi, nin nâgos.
It appears, nâgwad.
I appear so...., nind ijinagwi.
I make myself appear, (in a vision,) nin nâgwiidis.
After reading this I laughed and laughed and laughed. Of course, that man knew exactly what he was doing.