Father Frederic Baraga
Dedicates First Church
Source: Life and Labor of Rt. Rev Frederic Baraga, First Bishop of Marquette; by Chrysostomus Verwyst, 1900, pp. 124-126
"From there I went to another small village, which is two days journey from Beaver Island, on the other side of Lake Michigan, in the territory of the Northwest. As I have remarked above, I had last winter an opportunity to send word to the Indians of that village that I would visit them during spring. Hence when I arrived there they received me in the most friendly manner and rejoiced exceedingly at the coming of the missionary. The good feeling of these poor savages, who had remained pagans so long solely because no preacher of the faith had ever before come to them, filled my heart with inexpressible sadness and joy. I was deeply moved and surprised when I saw that these good people, in whose hearts the anticipating grace of vocation to the holy faith worked so mightily, had begun to build a little church, Indian-fashion, of logs and bark, even before I had come to them! They had not thought that I would so soon fulfill my promise of coming and seeing them, and that was the reason why they had not as yet completed their church. When I saw them working so diligently at their church, I, too, began to work, and my companions, nine in number, encouraged by my example, aided in the good work, and we finished the church that very day. The next day I called them all together and having first blessed the church, I said Holy Mass in it and preached. I cannot describe with what deep emotion and gratitude towards God I performed the ceremonies of the church. The thought: In this wild place, in this primeval forest, where but lately only the cry of savages was heard and idolatrous sacrifices offered to the wicked spirits, now in this same place stands a temple of the living God, in which the immaculate Lamb of God is offered to the heavenly Father—this thought affected me so strongly that I wept tears of the deepest emotion and I could not find words with which to thank God. Happy are we that He needs not the expression of words! He sees our hearts! This little church is built but of logs and bark and is in want of all that can please the eye or express artistic taste; yet it appears to me to be a more precious temple than so many churches in Europe, richly decorated with gold and works of art, and which are often desecrated by the lukewarmness and misbehavior of those that visit them."
"I dedicated this little church to the honor of God under the name and patronage of His Virginal Mother Mary. When I made—in Europe—the resolution to consecrate my life to the (Indian) mission, I promised our dear heavenly Mother that I would dedicate the first church, which I would bless amongst the Indians, to her protective Name, for I am convinced that she continually prays to her divine Son for the success of our mission."
"I remained quite a long time with these good Indians, instructing them in the doctrines of religion, and said Mass every day. All the Indians of this place, large and small, old and young, embraced the Christian religion with one solitary exception, namely, an old man, to whom God seems to have denied the grace of faith on account of his pride. He is unwilling to believe anybody except his own very weak reason. He maintains stubbornly that he lived once before on earth, that this is his second life, and after ending this life he wants to go where his pagan forefathers are." This last remark is a common saying with pagan Indians.
"The 25th of May was for these Indians the happy day, on which they were regenerated by water and the Holy Ghost unto eternal life. I baptized on that day nineteen pagans. Thanks be to the good Shepherd, who has mercifully led these poor lost sheep to His fold. Thanks be also to Mary the loving Mother of grace, who continually prays for the conversion of pagans."
"After Baptism they brought to me all their idolatrous articles, which they had hitherto used in their pagan sacrifices, I had a fire made and burnt all those abominations of paganism as a holocaust to Him, the Almighty, the Eternal, to whom alone sacrifice is due and to whom be praise and glory forever! Before leaving those good and happy people I distributed among them a great many religious pictures and promised to visit them from time to time in order to preserve and strengthen them in the faith, which promise consoled them very much."*
*This mission was located at Manistique, as is evident from F. Baraga's description, not Manistee.