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 | By Bishop Earl Boyea

Lessons from the ‘Snowshoe Priest’ Bishop Baraga, first bishop of Marquette

Excerpts from the homily Bishop Boyea preached at the episcopal ordination of Most Reverend Steven Raica, former chancellor of the Diocese of Lansing, now the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord. In it, Bishop Boyea spoke about Bishop Baraga, whose cause for sainthood is proceeding and whose chalice Bishop Raica used at his ordination Mass.

In 1861,  after a two-day canoe journey of 11 hours each day, Bishop Baraga arrived at Eagletown from Little Traverse and wrote: “After an unpleasant journey, rowing continuously, I arrived … sick.” Practically every summer this Bishop of Sault Ste. Marie, this Venerable Servant of God, made a long pastoral visit to the northern Lower Peninsula at the request of Bishop Peter Paul Lefevre in Detroit. When not in a canoe, he was on a horse or on his feet, feet that 31 years earlier he had described as “very sore and bad,” and as possible disqualifiers for his going to America as a missionary.

Some 30 years earlier, Baraga had his first missionary posting in the Arbre Croche area, which also included care of Beaver Island, Manistique and Cheboygan. During his first winter there in early 1833, he noted how cold it was, requiring his constant breath in order to melt the wine in the chalice so as to consecrate it and again in order to consume the precious blood of our Savior. And he was happy.

On his way to his first missionary posting in Arbre Croche, Father Baraga stopped at Detroit where he preached what he wrote his sister would be his final German homily, “because I firmly believe that I will remain uninterruptedly among the Indians until the last breath of my life.”

[Addressing Bishop Raica directly, Bishop Boyea’s message has meaning for all of us:] You know well that this task being given you is not easy, but if you remember daily this gift of God placed in your heart and soul, you too will share gladly in the sufferings which the Gospel entails. And as the Spirit fans into a flame that gift in you, you too will stir up that same spirit in so many in this diocese. And you too will be happy.