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Father Baraga's Catholic Faith

Father Baraga's Upbringing
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Father Baraga's Birthplace

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Father Baraga was born in 1797 in Ljubljana, Slovenia.  His mother passed when he was eight years of age and his father when he was fifteen.  Prior to his mothers passing he was being cared for by his uncles Ignatius Baraga and Barnard Jencic (appx. 1805-1811).  It was here that he was taught private lessons by a tutor.  In 1811 he was then cared for by a man named Jurij Dollnar (George Dolinar) who was a lay professor of Canon law and Church history at the diocesan seminary at Ljubljana which is now considered the capital of Slovenia.  Jurij took in promising students into his home to care for them.  It was here that Father Baraga took degrees in civil and Canon law and completed his undergraduate degrees. 

During the time that Father Baraga was there, Ljubljana was in the middle of the Napoleonic interlude in which Napoleon from France had dominated a large portion of Europe.  This interlude is the cause of the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.  He was coming of age when Napoleon what at the height of his influences and just when the "Illyrian Provinces" were being added to the First French Empire. In 1816, this region became Austrian and only two years prior to this was the worldwide restoration of the Society of Jesus.  

Around 1817 Father Baraga attended law school at the prestigious University of Vienna.  In that same year, Professor Vincint Weintridt, a former Jesuit, who was a friend of Clement Mary Hofbauer, recommended Father Baraga to Clement.  Shortly thereafter Baraga had joined Hofbauer's circle.  Clement Mary Hofbauer was a Redemptorist and was the head of a congregation that desired to live this simple Christian life.  The main goal of the Redemptorists was to spread the gospel to the poorest and most neglected people of the world. 


In 1815, Clement was working diligently to be able to curb the control the state had over Church matters and was on the verge of being removed from Vienna which was two years prior to Father Baraga's joining of his circle.  Soon afterwards though the Emperor Franz and a personal audience with the Pope allowed Clement to establish the Redemptorist Order in Vienna in 1819.  Clement Mary Hofbauer was later on to be beatified on January 29, 1888 to which Father Baraga lent a letter and recommendation on his behalf.  He was later canonized on May 20, 1909.  

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Clement Mary Hofbauer

Father Baraga was also influenced by Alphonsus Liguori who was the founder of the Redemptorist order.  He was born in 1726 and passed in 1787 at the age of 90.  Alphonsus was also a lawyer before answering the call of God to become a Father of the church.  At the time of Father Baraga's decision to come to the United States in 1829, he was completing the translation of one of Liguori's works.  Alphonsus was beatified on September 15, 1816 and Canonized on May 26, 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI.  Father Baraga also leaned into texts written by Thomas a Kempis who was also Redemptorist.  He had written the classic book called "The Imitation of Christ".  In it there was almost a total disregard for dogma or systematic theology.  Father Baraga leaned on his works and the works of similar saints as he performed his administrative duties within the church.  

Father Baraga graduated from the University in Vienna and obtained his degree in law in 1821.  He then was ordained as a priest in 1823.  He spent the following four years as a Curate of Smartno, followed by three years at Metlika.  During this time Father Baraga's fame as a confessor became widespread among the faithful, while his simplicity of manner attracted many to the church.  One can see the region in which Father Baraga has his parish in the photo to the right.  He was a priest in this region between the years 1828 and 1830 when he was between the ages of 31 and 33 years of age.  

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Metlika, Slovenia where Father Baraga had his parish

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Father Frederic Rese

During that time the United States, the need for financial assistance for the Catholic Missionaries was growing.  In 1822, in Lyons, Italy, the need began the group called "The Society for the Propagation of Faith".  In 1828, Father Frederic Rese, who Father Baraga would later work with began a similar society founded in Vienna.  He called this society "The Leopoldine" society.  Father Rese was sent to Europe to help recruit German speaking priests.  During his time there he was able to gain an audience with the emperor whose brother was a Cardinal Archbishop of Olmutz.  The society was approved by Pope Leo XII on January 30, 1829.  In that same year, Father Baraga requested permission to apply to the society and enter the American mission field.  

Father Baraga's European Influences

Europe would have a great influence on Father Baraga's Mission in the United States.  His time there would essentially ripen his ability to live with the Ojibwe people and allow him to live the lifestyle that he did with them which entailed a great deal of sacrifice, tolerance of a people that he didn't know, live a life free of unnecessary material items and the ability and the ability to help the native people who were undergoing significant changes in relation to their land and the ability to speak to a vast majority of the diverse populace that moved in and out of that region including the Ojibwe people.  

During Father Baraga's time in the Europe he had cultivated his skills in language.  By the time he had arrived in the United States he had already obtained the ability to fluently speak several languages which he stated in his letter of intent that he had sent to Father Rese.  

"I was born on the 29th of June, 1797 in Illyria, dioces of Laibach, in the kingdom of Austria.  I was ordained September 21, 1823.  I speak German, Illyrian [Slovenian], Latin, French, Italian and English."

During his time in Europe the regime changes would also impose changes and shifts within the school system that forced many of these language changes on him.  These trials ultimately would prove to benefit him during his tenure in the United States as he not only was able to grasp and understand the patterns within the Ojibwe language, he was able to write the first grammar book about the Ojibwe language in English, which was a language that he was just beginning to speak readily when he arrived.  These language shifts within his time in Europe also seemed to give him a compassion for the Ojibwe people as he has spoken many times of how within their time of transition they had an underlying desire to be able to retain the names of the lands and locations on which they lived.  His vast amount of time contributed to the largest Ojibwe dictionary also has proven to show his desire for others to connect with the Ojibwe people based on their own language.  

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Emperor Joseph II

During his time in Europe his region also underwent a significant change in leadership.  Not only had Napoleon forced his entrance into the region that Father Baraga lived, but there was also a change in the politics of Austria as the new Austrian Emperor, Joseph II, had taken the position of his mother Empress Maria Theresa in 1764.  He began this reform through the creation of a works called the "Edict of Toleration" which changed the way that the Roman Catholic Church operated in central Europe.  It was used as a tool to restrain the challenges that took place within the different faiths of the region as well as changing the educational system.  He also created a general seminary that where the desire to produce clergyman who were more open to ideas of toleration and pastoral work.  "In 1784 Rautenstrauch wrote that 'at every opportunity the students are to be instructed in Christian tolerance and to be made accustomed to it.'  The summary of the official church reform view of toleration stated:

"The truly tolerant person, while true to his creed, does not regard men who profess a different one as enemies of God, truth and virtue; he does not hate, persecute, or condemn them.  Rather he loves them as his brothers, as creatures of one and the same God."

This general view from the church proved to lead the heart of Father Baraga during his time with the Ojibwe people.  Although he had a different view of religion from them which he openly stated many times, he still led with tolerance and compassion at the center of his ministry.  His opinions were not opinions that forced the Ojibwe people to live a certain way, but rather they were of influence with his example of sacrifice based on gospel principles being at the center.


His region was also at the center of the struggle between church and state.  The political regimes instituted during the Napoleon wars would cause constant struggles between the church and state with ultimately the state being able to influence the institutes of religion within the areas.  Those that were of a particular belief system had only the ability to teach within a particular location if the state therein allowed it.  This created a situation where clergy had to move from country to country, city to city, based on the laws instituted at the time by the government.  Baraga ultimately would then come to the belief system similar to many of those that he worked with that would lean heavily towards the Church having its own authority outside of the state.  He would have first hand experience of how the influence of government would have the ability to affect the religious belief systems of those that had such laws imposed upon them.  This ultimately influenced his perseverance in helping to ensure that the Ojibwe people ultimately had rights to stay on their own lands free from the governing influence of the state.  

The movement of Jansenism, although he was opposed to the belief of original sin, would appeal to certain aspects of Father Baraga which was described by Blanning: "First and foremost it was against traditional baroque piety.  Betraying its origins as a movement of the literate elites, it demanded simplicity instead of display, rigour instead of opulence, austerity instead of indulgence, denial instead of sensuality.  The Jansenists were ecumenical: they insisted on the use of the vernacular for at least the Epistle and the Gospel during Mass; their ideal church was a bare hall."  

This would prove to be most useful among the Ojibwe people.  They were simple in their way of living requiring little only adornment of the necessary items for their living, beads on their shoes, belts and pipes and painting on their faces.  Opulence could not be found in the wigwam where the Ojibwe people made their homes out of temporary branches and birch bark.  The only extravagance that Father Baraga invested in was a church bell and a church to outsize the protestant church that was built upon Madeline Island soon after his arrival, but even then he preferred that the Ojibwe people would attend the Protestant School over not having an education at all.  The Ojibwe people would often comment on how the Europeans who they met would have to display their wealth in such a fashion.  Father Baraga, after becoming Bishop in 1853 was at the wedding with the Emperor of France.  When given a ciborium (a cup used in the consecration of the communion) from the Emperor of France, ended up selling it in order to raise money for his missions.  He had no connection to luxury, rather to simplicity, discipline and sacrifice.  

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