MARQUETTE - Bishop Frederic Baraga now bears the title of "Venerable." The news of this major advancement in the cause for sainthood of the Catholic Diocese of Marquette's first bishop was announced Thursday by the Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI met with Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, and approved the Congregation's recommendation that Bishop Baraga exhibited a life of heroic virtue and could thus be called "Venerable."
"I am thrilled beyond words at this recognition of Bishop Baraga's heroic virtue by the universal Church," Bishop Alexander K. Sample said. "I cannot overstate what a significant step this is towards 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."
Bishop Frederic Baraga
Attaining this first of three steps in the sainthood process means that devotion to Bishop Baraga and the veneration of his memory can become very public. People can now pray directly to the "Snowshoe Priest," as Baraga is called. In addition, church law states that access must now be given to his tomb.
Although the crypt in the basement of Marquette's St. Peter Cathedral, where Bishop Baraga's remains are interred, is open to the public, plans are being developed to move his earthly remains to a more prominent and accessible location in the upper body of the cathedral.
"We are planning to construct a special chapel to the right of the St. Joseph statue, breaking through the wall where the Holy Oils are currently housed," explained Bishop Sample. "This will become an entryway into a small but beautiful chapel where the remains of Venerable Frederic Baraga will be placed in a sarcophagus for the veneration and prayers of the faithful."
The bishop also asks everyone to pray that the potential miracle currently under investigation in Rome will be acknowledged so the diocese can proceed to the next step of the sainthood process, that of having Venerable Frederic Baraga beatified and declared "Blessed." If such a declaration was to be made, another miracle attributable to Bishop Baraga's intercession after his beatification would need to be approved before he could be called "Saint" Frederic Baraga.
Bishop Baraga was born in Slovenia on June 29, 1797. After just seven years as a priest, he came to the United States in 1830 to serve as a missionary to the Odawa and Ojibwa of the Upper Great Lakes. When immigrant miners and families came to Upper Michigan, he also extended his ministry to them.
Baraga was consecrated the first bishop of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and its adjacent islands on Nov. 1, 1853. He died on Jan. 19, 1868, in Marquette.
Although Bishop Thomas L. Noa, the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, actually opened the Baraga cause in 1952, it wasn't until 1973 that the formal canonical process at the Vatican officially began. At that time, Bishop Baraga was given the title, "Servant of God."
For background information on the sainthood process in the Catholic Church, log on to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' web site at: www.usccb.org/upload/making-saints.pdf.