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The Northern Cross - Local News
Early Duluth missionary Bishop Baraga named ‘venerable’
By John Fee
The U.P. Catholic
Bishop Frederic Baraga, first bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, Mich., and an early missionary in what is now the Diocese of Duluth, has been declared “venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI.
Bishop Frederic Baraga is depicted in a portrait from the Diocese of Marquette, Mich. Pope Benedict XVI moved his cause for sainthood a step forward May 10 by signing a decree recognizing him as “venerable.”
The Vatican announced May 10 that the pope formalized the church’s recognition of the 12th-century German Benedictine mystic St. Hildegard of Bingen, “inscribing her in the catalogue of saints.” The same day, the pope advanced the sainthood causes of 19th-century Bishop Baraga and of Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, a member of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, N.J., who died in 1927.
“I am thrilled beyond words at this recognition of Bishop Baraga’s heroic virtue by the universal church,” said Bishop Alexander Sample of the Marquette diocese. “I cannot overstate what a significant step this is toward the anticipated beatification and canonization of Bishop Baraga. This is a day for which we have been waiting nearly 40 years. I am so pleased to be able to call my saintly predecessor Venerable Frederic Baraga!”
The announcement has been anticipated since the Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted on Feb. 7 of this year that Bishop Baraga’s life exhibited “heroic virtue.” Bishop Sample, who was still in Rome following his ad limina visit when the congregation’s vote was announced, said naming Bishop Baraga venerable would be a “huge step in the cause for his beatification.”
Now that Bishop Baraga has been named venerable, some immediate changes include the ability to publicly venerate him and offer public prayers to him asking for his intercession and help. By canon law, his tomb must be accessible to the faithful. Plans are already being considered to move Venerable Baraga’s remains from the crypt in the basement of Marquette’s St. Peter Cathedral to a sarcophagus, which would be placed in a small chapel addition to the side of the cathedral.
Being named venerable clears one track of what Bishop Sample calls a two-track process for declaring a saint. In the first track, the person’s life is examined to determine “heroic virtue.” In the second track, two miracles attributed to the intercession of the potential saint must be verified.
To be declared venerable, a positio of Bishop Baraga’s life was thoroughly studied by historic and theological consultors to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. A positio is a written history of the potential saint’s life and work, as well as a summary of the person’s virtues. After the consultors gave a positive review of the record, the congregation studied it and gave it an affirmative vote. It was then up to the pope to declare Bishop Baraga venerable.
Now that Venerable Frederic Baraga has cleared the first track toward sainthood, he is also progressing along the second track involving miracles attributed to his intercession. Following a four-month investigation by a diocesan tribunal, documents were signed and sealed on July 17, 2011, at a ceremony held at St. Peter Cathedral concerning an alleged miracle attributed to Venerable Frederic Baraga. Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, postulator for the cause, delivered the findings of the tribunal to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The alleged miracle involved a purported tumor on a patient’s liver that had shown up on several diagnostic tests. The patient’s family and their parish priest prayed for healing by invoking the intercession of Venerable Baraga. Along with prayer, a stole belonging to Venerable Baraga was placed on the patient’s abdomen. The patient reported no longer being in pain. Doctors performed exploratory surgery and could find no trace of the tumor.
Should this or another miracle attributed to Venerable Frederic Baraga be verified by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope could then declare Venerable Frederic Baraga to be “blessed.” To subsequently be declared a saint by the pope, another miracle would have to occur following the declaration of blessed and also be verified by the congregation. The cause for Venerable Frederic Baraga’s sainthood was opened in 1952. Venerable Frederic Baraga received the title “servant of God” when the Congregation for the Causes of Saints formally admitted his cause for consideration.
Venerable Frederic Baraga was born in Villa Malavas (Slovenia) on June 29, 1797. He came to the United States to be a missionary to the Odawa and Ojibwa of the upper Great Lakes region in 1830. Venerable Frederic Baraga traveled throughout the 80,000 square-mile territory by canoe, boat, horse, snowshoes and even dog sled and became well known as the “Snowshoe Priest” for his many travels during winter. He was consecrated a bishop and appointed vicar apostolic of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in 1853.
When the vicariate apostolic was established as the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie (now called the Diocese of Marquette) in 1857, Venerable Frederic Baraga served as its first bishop until his death in 1868. His work includes an Ojibwa-English dictionary, which is still in use today.
St. Hildegard of Bingen is to be added to the Catholic Church’s formal list of saints, although she was never canonized, and Catholics worldwide may celebrate her feast day with a Mass and special readings by order of Pope Benedict XVI.
The pope’s order regarding St. Hildegard recognizes her widespread fame of holiness and that Catholics have venerated her for centuries.
In a 2010 series of audience talks about women’s contributions to the church, Pope Benedict dedicated two talks to St. Hildegard. He said she is a worthy role model for Catholics today because of “her love for Christ and his church, which was suffering in her time, too, and was wounded also then by the sins of priests and laypeople.”
In St. Hildegard’s time, there were calls for radical reform of the church to fight the problem of abuses made by the clergy, the pope had said. However, she “reproached demands to subvert the very nature of the church” and reminded people that “a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change in the structures as much as with a sincere spirit of penitence.”
In addition, the pope noted, modern Catholics can learn from her “love for creation, her medicine, her poetry and music that is being recreated today.”
Sister Demjanovich was born in Bayonne, N.J., in 1901. After attending Bayonne public schools, she began studies at the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, graduating in 1923. Two years later, she entered the Sisters of Charity at Convent Station. She wrote a series of spiritual conferences, which were collected and published after her death as a book, “Greater Perfection.” She died in 1927 at the age of 26.
The U.P. Catholic is the newspaper of the Diocese of Marquette, Mich. Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service contributed to this report.
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