Shrine of Bishop Baraga
First Bishop of the Upper Peninsula
"The Snowshoe Priest"
On the stretch of US 41 between L'Anse and Baraga, is a giant copper figure standing astride a silvery cloud rising some 60 feet above the bluff overlooking Keweenaw Bay. This heroic statue pays tribute to one of the earliest and most beloved pioneers of the Keweenaw, Frederic Baraga, the Snowshoe Priest who became the first Bishop of the Upper Peninsula and the Apostle of the Great Lakes.
Frederick Baraga left his home in Slovenia in 1830 for the Catholic missions of the Upper Great Lakes. Father Baraga's intention was to minister to the native peoples of the region. In the process he founded five missions along the south shore of Lake Superior and created a legend.
The last of his missions was sited in the village of L'Anse which had been the site of an earlier Jesuit mission founded in the late 1600's. He remained in L'Anse from 1843 and was consecrated as the first Bishop of the Upper Peninsula in 1853
Much been written about this priest who left an upper class European existence for the hardships of the northwoods. Stories of his endurance in overland treks to reach members of his flock are at times difficult to credit, yet the records attest to both his strength of will and physical stamina.
His title as the Snowshoe Priest" came from the necessity of long treks overland in the winter months to serve his far flung churches that served both the native population and the small communities of copper miners on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Even after he became a Bishop, Baraga continued his circuit covering distances of more than 60 miles. Bishop Baraga was known to travel over 700 miles in winter serving his churches.
Father Baraga had these comments about his work among the L'Anse Chippewa: "I have few comforts here, often times barely the necessities of life. But what consolation, what grand reward, what unspeakable joy will it be for me on the day of judgment, some or hopefully all of these my good children may surround me and give me testimony before our final judge".
Baraga learned to speak the native languages fluently and developed their written language. His Chippewa grammar and dictionary are still used today. In 1832, his first Indian Prayer Book was printed in Detroit.
In 1853 he was elevated to Bishop, becoming the first Bishop in Upper Michigan. He continued his long treks to visit churches in his jurisdiction.
The Bishop Baraga Shrine, erected in the 1960's, was designed and constructed by the late Jack Anderson with the help of Art Chaput. Anderson was commissioned by the Bishop Baraga Foundation to memorialize this dedicated man of God through funds raised by local subscription.
Rising six stories above the Red Rocks Bluff, the Shrine commands a breathtaking panoramic view of virgin hardwoods, scenic coastline and the oldest mountains, geologically, in the world. Flanking the southern side of the Bluff is the Lac Vieux Desert Trail, a gateway to the Mississippi Valley for Native Americans in the early 1830's.
Holding a cross (7 feet high) and snowshoes (26 feet long) the statute of Bishop Baraga is 35 feet tall and weighs four tons. It floats on a cloud of stainless steel supported by five laminated wood beams representing Baraga's five major missions.
The Shrine is a lovely spot to rest and get out of your car to stretch your legs. There is a well kept picnic area, gift, and snack shop on the site where you will find several fine books about Baraga and the early days of these Keweenaw Bay communities. You may also find yourself reflecting on the challenging conditions confronting this priest in his efforts to bring the Grace of God to the indigenous peoples of a wild and unforgiving land.
His triumph over adversity is still evident today in a county, a village, and a L'Anse street all named after Baraga, in the continuation of the Holy Name Church in Assinins, and in the Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest.
Baraga Shrine Holy Store and Missionary Center
The Shrine Gift and Coffee Shop was purchased in 2007 by the Missionaries of the Liturgy, a non-profit organization. The building is now the Baraga Shrine Holy Store and Missionary Center featuring a wide assortment of books, gifts, refreshments, ice cream, and public restrooms. All are welcome!
The Holy Store and Snack Shop is open May 15th through October 15th.
Baraga Shrine Holy Store and Snack Shop
The Baraga Shrine is always open as well as the Stations of the Cross prayer path located in the island of land in the middle of the parking lot and the little chapel nestled behind the Gift Shop.
Photos: Viviaan Wood & Mary Deloria