Thursday, May 31, 2012

Preparations for the Prieshood

In order to tell the story of how Father Patrick M. Flannigan entered the priesthood—the very opposite end of his life from that of his last station as a beloved pastor in the thriving immigrant neighborhoods of the south side of Chicago—we need to borrow from the notes of another man. That man, quite Patrick Flannigan’s elder, was the Bishop of the then-diocese of Sault Sainte Marie in Michigan, the Slovene immigrant Frederic Baraga.

Frederic Baraga was born in 1797 in what is now part of Slovenia, and after attending law school prior to seminary, was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1823. Within seven years, he found himself answering the call of Bishop Edward Fenwick of Cincinnati to serve as missionary to the native people and immigrant miners in the wide-open region of the Upper Peninsula.

His work in missions in that north land eventually earned him the nickname, “The Showshoe Priest.” He did not permit himself any limitations to his ministry owing to the harsh weather conditions of the region, but traveled a circuit between what eventually became several mission outposts. He was consecrated as the first bishop of the new Diocese of Sault Sainte Marie in 1853.

Just before this point, Father Baraga began keeping a journal, which later provided historians—such as Antoine Ivan Rezek, himself pastor in Houghton, Michigan—with a record of his journeys and work among several people groups and in several languages. It is from this one history work, Rezek’s History of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette, published in 1906, that we glean our information on the training and ordination of Father Patrick M. Flannigan, and the background story of his own family.

We’ve already been introduced to an excerpt of the Rezek narrative in the description of Father Flannigan’s own father, Captain James Flannigan. In that excerpt, we learned that the Bishop had stopped by the Flannigan household on more than one occasion, and that the town’s little church—probably no more than a mission outpost—was on the lot next door to the Flannigan household. When the Bishop came to town to meet with the parishioners, he preached in several languages as well as conducting all the other business necessary for any church. This proximity to Patrick’s family must have borne some influence on the young man.

Rezek mentions, from Bishop Baraga’s journal entry on June 27, 1860, that the Bishop himself sometimes did all the hands-on work of setting up for, as well as celebrating, the Mass. That, and walk to and from each village for which he had oversight.

On that same date, according to Rezek, the Bishop’s journal entry made a first mention specifically of Patrick, himself:
In La Point he took the North Star homeward bound; and in Ontonagon Patrick Flannigan joined him, on his way to the Seminary in Cincinnati.
From this 1860 journal entry, we glean our first point in the timeline of Patrick Flannigan’s journey toward the goal of being ordained as priest. As we’ll see tomorrow, the book provides several more points of interest in the story of the younger man’s theological training, as well as that of the energetic service of his mentor.

Photograph: Bishop Frederic Baraga; black and white half plate daguerreotype from studio of Mathew Brady; courtesy Library of Congress, via Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. I find the reference to the North Star confusing, as the two voyagers would have been heading south. Looking at a map, one might think the North Star was a sailing/steam ship (or a named train). I'm thinking it was a ship.

    1. Iggy, you are right. The "North Star" was a ship of some sort, although the excerpt from the book wasn't enough to make that apparent. The reference, by the way, is from a book that you found for me! There were several mentions, in the text, of travels by various ships--many of them transporting freight between various points on the Great Lakes.

      It is amazing, in reading the details in that book, to see how perseverant those early missionaries were, enduring so many hardships in their travels. The notes from the Bishop's journal were quite inspiring!

    2. Here's a quote from the Rezek book explaining the reference to the North Star:

      “A hurried visit was next paid to Ontonagon from where the Bishop went to Marquette on his favorite steamer, the North Star.”

      The quote can be found at


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