Why Father Baraga is a Saint
Father Baraga is on the path to Sainthood in the Catholic Church which requires that a person meet the standards of a great reputation in order to be able to be known as such in addition to several other requirements. When one enjoys the title of being a Saint others then aspire to live their lives after this person who connects with them through the life that they lived. In this way this page is dedicated towards encapsulated the life values that Father Baraga sought to bring forward in this world so that others may so follow in the footsteps of this man who is so deserving of the title of "Kitchitwa" or Saint. Please continue reading this page to read about all the virtues of Father Baraga. Please click below if you want to be taken to the page to learn about what it takes to be considered a Saint in the Catholic Church.
I am grateful to offer these understandings to the Ojibwe as well, whom Father Baraga served, so that they can see the heart of the missionary who worked amongst them and to understands how much he truly gave to them during his life amongst them.
Father Baraga not only taught the gospel of Christ, he lived the gospel of Christ
Father Baraga understood what it was to care for the least of thy brethren, meaning to care for those that were in the greatest need. The Ojibwe, as they underwent the greatest of hardships due to the government and the fur traders doing everything they could to gain the upper hand needed to have someone on their side. Father Baraga was that person who would advocate for them, try to gain back what the government had taken, work towards helping them become established on their land and utilizing the gospel of Christ to help create respite during a very challenging time. His message was what the gospel represents which is meant to create peace and help for those who are in need.
In the gospel it says, "Whosoever should ask you for your coat, give to him your cloak also. If a man asks you to walk with him a mile, walk with him twain." If anything sums up the sacrifices that Father Baraga made in order to work with the Ojibwe, these scriptures sum it up perfectly. No matter what time Father Baraga was called to work with the Ojibwe, he would get up and the go to help, no matter how many miles away. There were times that he would just fall asleep and then he would receive a knock on the door and he would walk miles upon miles in order to give the last rites to a person that was in need.
There were record of the challenges that he had being European as well as the Ojibwe were accustomed to the climate that they were in. He said during one of the times that he walked these many miles that he would have to sleep next to a fire outside to stay warm in the winter. The Ojibwe guides that he had would fall asleep and stay asleep once the fire went out as they were accustomed to the climate, but for him he would wake up once the fire went out shivering. He would stay this way until they were ready to take their walk again where his body could warm with the exercise. In the year 1846 Father Baraga would end up snowshoeing over 600 miles to be able to go from location to location to help them and only in this manner would he reach the varying tribes that he wished to connect with.
Father Baraga taught that loving gospel was about living the gospel
The gospel for Father Baraga wasn't a Sunday a service although that was important to the learning of it. He taught that the gospel was something that someone lived. In one of his first letters as Bishop he emphasized the importance of daily prayer. He mentioned that if God so willingly cares for us, how are we not able to give a few minutes of our lives to God. He also mentioned how amazing it is to be able to store up treasures in heaven that required no cost for us whatsoever...only dedication and a willingness to orient ones lives towards living the words that Christ taught. The gospel was something that traveled with someone no matter where they lived or what they were doing.
Father Baraga lived the words that he taught. He would rise up on a daily basis at 4 or 5 in the morning to ensure that he had time to pray. Those prayers happened wherever he was located in the moment. If he was in a busy location he would stand in the corner and pray away from the eyes of those who walked by. If he was outdoors he would pray in the rain. His first hour would always be dedicated to the creator Kitchi Manito.
He loved working with the Ojibwe as they readily learned about and implemented what he would teach to them. This was something that he said sometimes varied from the churches that he knew in Europe where others attended mass and the churches were well adorned but those who went to church did not live the gospel as easily and readily as the Ojibwe did. He mentioned that the little churches that were built by the Ojibwe and were not pleasing to the eye were the most pleasing structures that he had seen as he knew that the Ojibwe built these structures with their heart. Father Baraga's heart could not be filled up more than to see this transpire.
Father Baraga was different from the other missionaries who worked amongst the Natives
There are distinct differences that can be drawn between many of the missionaries that worked with the Native people and how Father Baraga worked with the Native people. A story was once read about how missionaries that came to work with the Lakota people strongly shared with their children that even the way Native people carried their children on their backs were incorrect. When their child was seen as doing this very thing they were admonished for the behavior. The native world was not accepted and in order to learn of Christianity a Native had to relinquish the entirety of their culture. Father Baraga was different.
Father Baraga's Cross for his Church at Madeline Island - Courtesy of the Madeline Island Museum
The Ojibwe Medicine Wheel
Father Baraga learned the Ojibwe language and wished that all missionaries who worked with the Ojibwe to learn their language as well. Father Baraga encouraged the Natives to stay with their families. Father Baraga also helped them to retain their cultural ways and to add on the gospel and the European culture only in ways that would contribute to their greater well-being. Even in the printing of his prayer books they were called the "Otawa" prayer book or the "Otchipwe" prayer book. The gospel was theirs to care for and to help bring forward. Only in 1846, at a time when there was a greater need to prove that the Ojibwe were Christian, did Father Baraga change the title of the book to the "Katolic" prayer book.
Father Baraga did not hinder the Ojibwe from collecting wild rice, maple syrup, or gathering but instead asked that they bring and live the gospel as they went about their daily lives. One of his greatest delights is that when the Ojibwe had traveled in order collect their sugar some of them would come back on Sunday's and then chose to go to mass. He had no greater joy than to see the site of them come around the corner on the Sabbath day.
My primary example could always be found in this cross that he had made for his church at Madeline Island. In the center of each cross was a circle and then in each direction there were two thorns that were added. To the Christian one understands that this was the crown of thorns that Christ wore. To the Native one understands that this is the medicine wheel with each direction honored with two thorns. Thus, even in this cross one can see the retention of their traditions.
One can also find this cross at the Madeline Island Cemetery. There the Ojibwe were not asked to stop the tradition of building their houses to place on top of the graves of a loved one, but rather just added a cross on top of the house for the Ojibwe that decided to become Christian.
Father Baraga taught peace
Father Baraga could recognize the challenges that the Ojibwe faced. Alcohol created a greater tendency for the Ojibwe to cause harm one to another. After undergoing his own challenge with the Ojibwe on one of his first missions and seeing the harm that alcohol inflicted on each other, Father Baraga vowed that he would then give up alcohol. At all of Father Baraga's missions there was an expectation that the OJibwe would be free from partaking in "ishkotewabo". They signed pledges saying that they would abstain and were expected to be sober even before Father Baraga worked with them and Father Baraga refused to work with anyone who was under the influence of alcohol. As a result the Ojibwe started to create additional precautions to ensure that ishkotewabo would not be found in their regions. On Madeline Island, when Father Baraga worked there, the Ojibwe would ban any alcohol from coming onto the island at all in order to ensure that they would not partake of it.
Also at the time the Ojibwe were still sparring with the Dakota in war. Father Baraga noted that when one tribe ended up killing or injuring another tribe a vow to retaliate would happen. This then would end up killing or injuring the party that had created the offense. Then another vow to retaliate would happen. These then would continue the fuel the battles amongst the tribes. Father Baraga would then utilize the gospel to teach forgiveness and to instill peacemaking amongst the other tribes and within their own. The Ojibwe then upon becoming Christian would vow that they would live a different life where they did not cause harm to their fellow brothers and sisters no matter what tribe they were from.
Father Baraga helped the Ojibwe retain their lands during a time when this would seem impossible.
In addition, Father Baraga did all that he could to help them to stay on their lands. Utilizing the resources he was able to access from the church he would purchase land for his missions. When it was safe to do so he would then gift this land over to the Ojibwe. In this way, even when the government wished for the Ojibwe to relocate to another location, the Ojibwe were still legally entitled to have rights to certain lands. The government then in no way had the right to relocate them. A large part of the reservation of L'Anse is partly attributed to the land that Father Baraga was able to gain on behalf of the Ojibwe.
Trying to have the Ojibwe stay on their own lands was an uphill battle as the Indian Removal Act was a congressional act that mandated that they be relocated to the regions west of the Mississippi. The government then was hard pressed to want to help Father Baraga through any means. Even though treaties were made that said that the Ojibwe were going to be given certain items to help them in their progression towards living sustainably on a given plot of land, when it came to working with Father Baraga, those items were usually not provided. Despite the difficulties, the Ojibwe would still end up working with Father Baraga helping him to build shelters, farms, etc so that they could be able to live independently in the European world that was coming their direction. Father Baraga wasn't given any funds through any of the treaties though fur traders and others were given great sums of money. Father Baraga often earned this money for his missions by traveling back to Europe to be able to solicit funding from the people to help. This money was then given to the church and even then Father Baraga had a difficult time sometimes receiving the money that was given. Only proof of the notes of others allowed him to be able to obtain this funding.
Father Baraga truly cared
If you are thinking that his many missions and his many obstacles made Father Baraga a man that had a tough interior, you'd find out that the opposite is true. Father Baraga had an incredibly sensitive heart. He was known to at times be at the pulpit and give a homily (sermon) to those where were there and when something touched his heart he would weep. There was even a time that when speaking about Christ that this moment touched him so much that he had to remove himself from the pulpit and he was not able to return again.
If one wishes to see the connection between Father Baraga and his heart and how that connects with the Ojibwe one only needs to look at Father Baraga's dictionary under the word 'heart'. It is there one can see all the ways in which the heart is defined in the Ojibwe culture as well as what Father Baraga wished to convey to the missionaries that he brought oversees. It takes up about two entire columns of the dictionary and one can see descriptions such as "I have a good heart, I have a large heart, My heart is so, My heart is afflicted (is sorrowful), From all my heart, My heart is tired from sorrow and grief, It comes in my heart." No greater example can be shown between the way that the Ojibwe lived their lives and the way in which the Europeans lived their lives which comes more from logic and places less emphasis on the heart. Father Baraga understood what it was to truly care and thus his own heart integrated easily with the Ojibwe culture.
Father Baraga also understood that in order to be able to gain the trust of the Ojibwe that the children needed to be treated with the greatest of respect and care. When he first went to his L'Anse mission at first he was greeted with mistrust. Then he went about caring for the Ojibwe children. Sometimes he would stay up with the children for hours on end singing the gospel songs in the Ojibwe language. Only when all the children were asleep would he then find his rest himself. When the Ojibwe soon saw that he was someone that was trustworthy they then wished only to help Father Baraga and soon his mission expanded. I always tell myself that in order for this missionary to have baptized over a thousand individuals and for them to bring their children to him to be baptized as well, one needs to have an example at that time of amazing care and concern for the individual and their families. The Ojibwe, who were keen on understanding individuals intents and motivations, would only be willing to entrust him with these duties if they were completely certain that he could be trusted. In the end, the numbers show his level of compassion.
Father Baraga is a Saint for all Christians
When Father Baraga had to create words for the Ojibwe in order to understand what he was teaching, he did not teach them the traditional Catholic terminology for what they were being introduced to, but rather he taught about the core principles behind each of the words. The altar was known as the prayer table, the rosary was known as prayer beads (or small round balls), Sunday was known as the day of prayer. Everything he taught revolved around prayer and an individuals connection with God. Few words had to be defined in alternative ways. Some of these words included the Catechism which was called the "Kateshim". The Eucharist was called the "Eukaristiwin". Catholic was called "Katolik" and he noted directly under that word that a Catholic Christian was called "Katolik Enamiad."
In order for one to be considered a Saint according to the Catholic Church one needs to have lived a virtuous life and have helped many people understand the gospel of Christ. There is no more clear-cut example of a person that not only had a reputation for good amongst the Ojibwe but also was a person that helped to bring forward the light and the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this Father Baraga is deserving of the title that is offered to those who have had a reputation for such good in the world. That title is called "Kitchitwa" or Saint.