Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest – A Tribute to Bishop Frederic Baraga in L’Anse
A well-known name in Upper Peninsula history, Bishop Frederic Baraga’s name has recently attracted national and international attention as a campaign to approve the Catholic missionary for sainthood continues along. While numerous UP counties, cities, landmarks and more draw their name(s) from the “snowshoe priest,” one monument in L’Anse on the shore of the Keweenaw Bay literally stands out above the rest. The Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest is awe-inspiring, rising six stories above the red rock bluff that overlooks M-41 and the bay. The statue itself is 35 feet tall, and the teepees at the base each represent one of the five missions he founded – including one in Grand Rapids on the Grand River.
The famous Slovenian missionary was born in 1797, and made his first trip to Michigan in 1831. He made notable contributions in linguistics by improving the understanding of Ottawa and Ojibwa languages, and served at or helped found missions at Cross Village, Grand Rapids and L’Anse as well as others in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The “snowshoe priest” nickname comes from his willingness to travel hundreds of miles on snowshoes between missions in the harsh Michigan winters. He died in 1868, and his remains are buried at St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette.
A nearby Michigan Historical Marker details the L’Anse Lac Vieux Desert Trail’s history, as this was one route missionaries like Baraga used in their travels.
Near this spot ran the L’Anse-Lac Vieux Desert Trail, which crossed the interior of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from L’Anse on Keweenaw Bay to Lac Vieux Desert on the Wisconsin border. The trail was used in prehistoric times by native Americans traveling to visit, hunt or trade. Father Rene Menard may have followed this route in 1661 as he traveled south from Keweenaw Bay, a trip from which he never returned. The trail was later used by fur traders, early surveyors and homesteaders. The L’Anse and Lac Vieux Desert bands of Chippewa Indians used this trail into the twentieth century. Today many segments of the L’Anse-Lac Vieux Desert Trail are unpaved roads that can be traveled by car.
The Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest is located just south of M-41, with the turn onto Boyer Rd. coming just before or just after you cross the Falls River, depending on direction of travel. It is well signed and apparently attracts thousands of visitors each year. We’ve been there twice, and have had it to ourselves both times and have yet to catch the gift shop when it is open.