March 10, 2010

A Michigan Saint? Diocese of Marquette opens investigation into alleged miracle attributed to pioneer bishop

MARQUETTE - The cause for sainthood of the Catholic Diocese of Marquette’s first bishop will take a major step forward this week when the diocese opens an official inquiry into an alleged miracle being attributed to the Servant of God, Bishop Frederic Baraga

The Most Rev. Alexander K. Sample, Bishop of Marquette, announced the development in the nearly 60-year old cause during a news conference held on Wednesday, March 10, 2010 in Marquette.

“Since my first days as a seminarian studying for the priesthood, I have had a great devotion to Bishop Baraga,” Bishop Sample said.  “As his eleventh successor, I am thrilled at the prospect of a miracle that will advance his cause.   With all the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of the diocese, I give thanks to God for his holy, priestly example.”

The diocese will form a canonical tribunal that will investigate the potential miracle, which took place in the U.P.

“We have a case involving what was thought to be a tumor on a patient’s liver that showed up on various tests, including a CT scan and an ultrasound.  However, when exploratory surgery was done, there was no tumor to be found,” explained Father Ronald Browne, diocesan moderator of the curia.

In this instance, the patient, the patient’s family and their parish priest had prayed for healing by invoking the intercession of Bishop Baraga.  In addition, Bishop Baraga’s stole had been placed on the patient’s abdomen, after which the patient reported that the pain went away.

In order to be affirmed as a miracle, the event being investigated must be one that science cannot explain and be attributable to the intercession of the person whose sainthood is being sought.

Bishop Sample has appointed Fr. Browne as episcopal delegate to lead the work of the canonical tribunal.  Other members of the team will include Father Ben Paris as promoter of justice, Elizabeth Delene as notary, Judy Jason as copyist (transcriptionist) and Dr. John G. Kublin, M.D. as the medical expert.

The bishop has also appointed Father Michael Steber, pastor of St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette, to serve as chancellor in this case, but he is not part of the team.  Father Steber will open the inquiry process, obtain the signatures of the tribunal members on the key documents that need to be signed and close the process when it is finished.  The opening session is scheduled to take place on Friday, March 12, at 2 p.m. EST at the Diocesan Office Building.

In investigating the alleged miracle, the tribunal will determine whether an event has occurred that cannot be explained by science and whether it can be attributed to the intercession of Bishop Baraga.  After a complete investigation into the potential miracle, two independent physicians must testify as to the physical condition of the person who was the beneficiary of the alleged miracle.

The cause for Bishop Baraga’s sainthood was opened in 1952.  Since that time, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has reviewed documentation, called a positio, (pronounced peh-ZEET-see-oh) that detailed Bishop Baraga’s life and virtues, as well as documents written by or about him.  Bishop Baraga carries the title, “Servant of God,” since the congregation has formally admitted his cause for consideration.

The diocese is currently at the next step in the sainthood process, which is to determine whether any miracles have been attributed to Bishop Baraga’s intercession.  The congregation informed the postulator of the Baraga Cause, Dr. Andrea Ambrosi (pronounced Ahn-DRAY-a Ahm-BROH-zee) of Rome, that the alleged miracle soon to be looked into had the semblance of being a miracle attributable to Bishop Baraga and that it merited further investigation.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints will again review the positio and make a recommendation to Pope Benedict XVI regarding Bishop Baraga’s heroic virtue.  The Holy Father will then decide whether the title of “Venerable” can be bestowed on Bishop Baraga.

Once a miracle attributable to Baraga has been verified and the proper documentation submitted to the pontiff, Pope Benedict will decide whether Bishop Baraga is to be beatified, which would give him the title of “Blessed.”  This would allow him to be publicly venerated in a limited sense.

In order for Bishop Baraga to be canonized, that is, declared a saint, the diocese would need to verify another miracle attributable to his intercession that occurred after his beatification.  Pending a positive result, Bishop Baraga would be known as Saint Frederic Baraga and be subject to public veneration throughout the worldwide Church.

Bishop Baraga was born in Slovenia in 1797.  He came to the United States to be a missionary to the Odawa and Ojibwa of the upper Great Lakes region in 1830.  Bishop Baraga traveled throughout the 80,000 square mile territory by canoe, boat, horse, snowshoes and even dog sled.

Records indicate that Bishop Baraga once stopped along the Lake Huron shoreline, in present-day Sanilac County (now part of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw) in route to the U.P. The modern parish communities of St. Denis in Lexington and St. Mary - Our Lady of Sorrows in Port Sanilac can trace their roots, in part, to his missionary activities.

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, Baraga served as its first bishop until his death in 1868.  His work includes an Ojibwa English dictionary, which is still in use today.

The Bishop Baraga Association was established in 1930 to promote the cause for sainthood of the “Snowshoe Priest,” as Bishop Baraga is called.  For more information regarding the Bishop Baraga Association, contact Elizabeth Delene at (906) 227-9117 or 1-800-562-9745, ext. 117.

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