Bishop Sample speaks to middle schoolers during a 2011 conference in Marquette.
Who was Father Marquette?
Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette, (1637-'75) was a French priest known for his missionary work in the Great Lakes country and as co-discoverer of the Mississippi River with Louis Jolliet in 1673.
The village was founded in 1849 and named after the community of Worcester, Mass. but a year later the name was changed to Marquette. Within the city of Marquette a street, a large statue, a state historic marker, and the central Catholic school honor the community’s namesake.
The name of the county, a civil township and the designation of one of three iron ranges in the Upper Peninsula, and the Father Marquette National Memorial at St. Ignace also commemorate the explorer.
— Russell Magnaghi, Northern Michigan University Center for Upper Peninsula Studies
Jesuit missionaries from France began spreading the word of God on a peninsula amid the Great Lakes as early as the 17th century. St. Isaac Jogues was the first to officially celebrate a Mass there in a log cabin. Missionary Jacques Marquette was the first resident pastor to the Chippewa and Sault Indians here. Jesuit priests continue to serve the Diocese of Marquette, retaining the tradition that goes back to 1641.
Father Frederic Baraga settled at L’Anse in 1843. Originally established as the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, he found the area too remote and moved diocesan headquarters to Marquette.
Bishop Baraga laid the cornerstone for St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette in 1866. When a fire started in the church on Nov. 3, 1935, records state that a priest and parish custodian put on masks and tied themselves together for safety to fight the smoke and save the sacred vessels from the cathedral’s main altar. They escaped just before the roof collapsed.
A bishop’s residence was constructed in 1932, which was expanded over the years to add space for a growing administration. An official name change in 1937 meant the diocese would be known as Marquette. The diocese’s first organized department was education. In 1981, some diocesan business offices were moved to what was formerly the St. Joseph Sisters convent. In 2005, operations were consolidated in a new pastoral center and the old offices were converted into priest apartments.
Calumet, the center of the copper mining industry, had five ethnic Catholic churches: French Canadian, Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, Polish, and English/Irish. Today there are two. Many of these parishes remain, a testament to the immigrants’ faith.
Since the closing of the mines and the boom days the population of the diocese has declined as people move away. However, Yooper (UP-er) Catholics are resilient, and the diocese under Archbishop Alexander Sample and his predecessors has met the challenges and thrives.
To meet the decline in vocations, Bishop James Garland, Archbishop Sample’s predecessor, invited priests from India to serve local parishes.
In 1953, Catholics in Marquette marked 100 years after becoming a vicariate apostolic.
The Catholic population is about 24 percent of the total; Catholics represent the largest single religious group in the Upper Peninsula, the area of the diocese.
The diocese provides social services to both Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the peninsula and is a major social force in the North Country. The Friday fish fry (fried cod, coleslaw and French fries) was started in restaurants and veterans’ clubs for Catholics, but has now become an important staple throughout the diocese on Friday, especially during Lent.