Baraga Meets Mazzuchelli

"Few persons can realize the emotion of two priests who, after months of solitude, have the consolation of meeting.  Their first concern is, naturally, the sacrament of penance and their mutual spiritual progress…"

Baraga’s Spiritual Directors and Directees

During his time studying law in Vienna, Baraga’s spiritual director was a future saint, Fr. Clement Hofbauer of the Redemptorist Order.  During Baraga’s time at Arbre Croche, Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli (now Venerable), a fellow missionary to the Native Americans in the Midwest, sought Baraga out for spiritual direction, and Baraga also requested Mazzuchelli’s spiritual guidance in his decisions.  Here we see how important it is to seek out and offer good and holy guidance.  Below you will find some excerpts from Father Samuel Mazzuchelli’s journals regarding his and Baraga’s relationship. 

The short cool summer of these regions was over, and the Missionary [Fr. Mazzuchelli writing about himself in third person] had gone back to his little house that had been newly built near the church at Mackinac, when for several days he interrupted his usual services to the flock in order to revive his own devotion by a visit to the Reverend F. Baraga.  This admirable and learned priest exercised his holy ministry among the Ottawa Indians at one of their villages named Arbre Croche on an inlet of Lake Michigan… 

A priest had visited the Ottawas in 1829; at that time many of them embraced the religion once professed by their forefathers.  In 1831, when the Reverend Frederic Baraga was appointed to spread the truths of the Gospel among them, the faith revived and with it the practice of all Christian virtues.  In a few years the numerous and frequent conversions made of that tribe a chosen people with the fervor of the first Christians. 

At the end of January, 1832, the wondrous power of nature had at one stroke frozen the waters which separate the island from the place where once the good Jesuits had been the benefactors of the Ottawas.  The solid magnificent bridge over the water prepared a dry road for the Missionary, who, accompanied by several Indians, was traveling toward his brother in the sacred ministry.… The next day he reached Arbre Croche after a trying journey, partly on foot, partly on an unbroken horse that, to prove his independence and superiority, threw him before night. 

Few persons can realize the emotion of two priests who, after months of solitude, have the consolation of meeting.  Their first concern is, naturally, the sacrament of penance and their mutual spiritual progress…. 

The mission at Arbre Croche had several stations with small churches; the largest was in the village where the Reverend Father Baraga was established… 

In this happy place of primitive fervor, everyone rose at the sound of the Ave Maria and in a few minutes was ready to go to the church.  There every day they said their morning prayers, and then with the greatest devotion took part in the Holy Sacrifice of the New Law, accompanying it with devout hymns of their own language… 

How much the vain scholars of our day could learn from these people, “the poor in spirit.”  A Christian savage is far wiser than that man who, after spending his days enriching his mind with divine and human learning, then forgets his Creator.  The former studies and loves ardently with all the strength of his soul the uncreated Wisdom which communicates itself to his spirit by faith, and by a pure and humble life gains the eternal possession of its first Source.  The other, foolish and shortsighted, loses himself in the Creator’s works without well understanding them; and while refusing to give God the unceasing homage of his heart, casts himself into that eternal darkness which surrounds the spirit that does not, during life, love and serve Christ, the true light of the world…

Apostolic zeal is not content to do good only to those nearby, but extends its solicitude as far as its strength can reach.  The Reverend Father Baraga often traveled through the northern part of Michigan which was inhabited by the Ottawas, and in a few years of labor had gathered a flock of several thousand Christians, nearly all baptized by himself. 

Mazzuchelli continues in a later entry: 

If one who desires to teach others the doctrine of Christ must first practice it himself, it will not surprise the reader to know that the Missionary, although somewhat wearied by his late journeys on land and water, decided when he returned to the island to visit his spiritual director.  Taking advantage of the departure of ten Catholic Indians leaving for Arbre Croche in a bark canoe, he crossed the strait of Mackinac with them one evening.  They passed the first night in a dense forest under a little tent made cheerful by a crackling fire nearby, which the group kept supplied with fuel.  Who could forget the sweet hymns sung in their own language by the devout rowers as they crossed the lake?...

Following the winding curves of the lake shore, on the evening of the second day they landed at the safe harbor of New Arbre Croche.  Attention was at once attracted to several Indians who were throwing a barrel into the water; others were breaking up a second barrel in the village street.  On being asked the reason for their action, they replied that a trader, contrary to the laws of the villagers, had brought the two barrels of brandy.  The Ottawa chief had therefore ordered one of the barrels to be hurled into the lake and the other broken up … and poured on the ground as a sign of contempt…

The chief purpose of this journey was achieved by finding in the holiness and learning of Father Baraga that spiritual joy felt most keenly by one who rarely had the opportunity to see the face of another priest.  Among the diverse trials of a missionary in a remote country, the most bitter is the deprivation of sacramental confession.  God grant that his isolation may perfect in him the holy fear of God so that the sincere desire to confess may take the place of the sacrament! 

The priest of the Ottawas [Father Baraga] was planning at that time to leave his flourishing mission to the zeal of another in order to carry the light of the Gospel to the vast tribe of the Chippewa who occupied the upper portion of the Wisconsin Territory… To give a beautiful vineyard of the Lord to the care of another worker in order to undertake the hard toil of planting a second vineyard was his holy and salutary vocation.  In this he had the approval of his companion [Father Mazzuchelli].  For many years the Reverend Father [Baraga] has been at the western end of Lake Superior, called La Pointe; here, far from the vanities of the world he lives happily among his converted Chippewa, speaking their language.  Living with these people in evangelical poverty he has a precious pledge of future glory with the Apostles.

Excerpted from Mazzuchelli, The Memoirs of Father Mazzuchelli, O.P. Chicago: Priory Press 1967, pp. 57-61, 75-76.

This book is available for purchase from the Sinsinawa Dominicans at          


(picture above top: Baraga; bottom: Mazzuchelli)
Both pictures used by permission of Jeff Gardner.

   Thank you to the Baraga Bulletin, www. for permission to reprint the above article about the meeting of these two great men.  The above article appeared in the Winter 2012 edition of the bulletin.