Bishop Baraga Honored at Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

March 12, 2012 by  
Filed under The Cornerstone

NOTE: This essay was written by Sister M. Ancilla Matter, F.S.G.M., M.A. for the Winter 2012 issue of The Baraga BulletinThe Baraga Bulletin is a quarterly publication of The Bishop Baraga AssociationSister Ancilla, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George and Volunteer Coordinator at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, holds a Masters in Moral Theology from the Graduate School of Theology at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, PA.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, located in La Crosse, Wisconsin, was founded by Cardinal Raymond Burke to be a place of spiritual pilgrimage for people from all over the world who yearn for the peace, love, and compassion that Our Lady of Guadalupe promises, and to experience that depth of the love and mercy that Her Son has for each of us.  Our Lady’s instruction to each pilgrim: “Do whatever He tells you” guides each pilgrim’s steps.

The peak of a pilgrim’s journey is the Shrine Church. The goal of every human being’s journey is to reach the prize that awaits each one, Jesus Christ Himself. To help us along our journey we have the companionship and prayers of Our Lady, the Saints and those who have gone before us, and our guardian angels.

 The Shrine Church has two levels. The main level of the Church contains shrines and first-class relics of Blesseds and Saints who would be meaningful to those who come to the Shrine in need. In the lower Narthex, there are two Venerables and one Servant-of-God who are honored.  All three of these holy men have ties to Wisconsin; two of them particularly are known for their total self-giving to ministering to the spiritual needs of the people, particularly of the Native American, of what was then the Northwest Territory.

The portraits draw attention to what these three men have contributed to the history and the faith of this area of the United States. Artist Robert ‘Brett’ Edenton was commissioned by Cardinal Burke to paint portraits of Venerable Solanus Casey, Venerable Samuel Mazzuchelli, and Servant-of-God Bishop Frederic Baraga.

Brett is a strong believer in the realist traditions of the old masters, influenced by artists such as Bouguereau, DaVinci, and Caravaggio. In order to paint Casey, Mazzuchelli, and Baraga, he studied a series of extensive drawings, portraits, along with the life of each saint and then in his painting tried to portray the man, the deeds, the time period, and the place as accurately possible. As a result, Brett’s paintings can tell you a lot about the person portrayed. 

With regard to Bishop Baraga, the point of interest for this article, Brett painted Baraga’s portrait in such a way that one can actually meet and get to know him. Much of what follows was shared with me by Brett himself, explaining the details in the portrait. He mentioned that of the three subjects portrayed, Baraga was the one whose story fascinated him the most.

Travel:  One fact that is remarkable about Bishop Baraga is just how much he traveled throughout his life: not only the major journey from his home in Slovenia to America, but also the vast triangular territory of over 80,000 square miles including areas of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada throughout which he traveled for 37 years. Many of these trips were made on foot and under the harshest and most dangerous of conditions – snow, ice, even by canoe.  Though the area was so vast, Bishop Baraga was willing to make whatever trip he had to make to reach all of the people he could, particularly his beloved Native Americans. He would journey to them, with them, and for them whenever he could.  

Globe:  The globe hints at just how far his influence reached – from Eastern Europe all the way to the rural Midwest.

Map:  The map behind Bishop Baraga in the painting is true to that time period and showcases the areas that he called home and frequently journeyed through.  

Books, foreground:  His goal was to make God known and loved by all men. Thus, Bishop Baraga learned to speak the languages of the Indians, and then compiled their own dictionary, Catechism, Scriptures, and devotional books.  Several of these books are in the foreground of the painting.

Books, background:  Many of the books in the background are actual titles that existed at that time, and perhaps, based on his personal interests and location, Baraga himself may have liked to have read.

Snowshoes:  His treks in snowy Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada, would have been impossible without them.  

Dove:  The dove, traditionally a symbol of peace, was included to mark the relationship between Bishop Baraga and the Native Americans – a relationship that was often criticized.

Bishop’s Coat of Arms:  Above him is his Coat-of-Arms.  Bishop Baraga’s motto was “One thing is necessary,” which gave focus to his service of God’s people as a bishop.

Garments:  Bishop Baraga’s garments were based off of both what he was known to wear personally, as well as what would have been worn by a man of his position at that time and place.

Hands:  His hands were positioned to suggest a peaceful pose, but not entirely idle – to hint at a calm demeanor, yet ready to open his arms at any time.

Pilgrims to the Shrine are invited to stop a few minutes before this shrine in honor of Bishop Baraga, to experience his holiness and zeal, and to be inspired to ask for his intercession and to beg the grace of God to live the same kind of faith-filled life.

Bishop Frederic Baraga, pray for us!

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