Monsignor Joseph Francis Buh

Frančišek Buh


Monsignor Joseph Francis Buh was a Catholic priest who traveled Minnesota around the time of the early gold rush, ministering to many groups of people and setting up churches across the state. He was well known for his dealings with the Native American tribes of the northern half of the state and for his time spent setting up the Duluth Diocese. He lived to the ripe old age of 89, having ministered through the careers of three Popes: Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius X.

Joseph Francis Buh was born on March 17, 1833 in Lucne, Krain (Carniola), Austria, to parents Mathias Buh and Maria Kosir. He had six siblings – three brothers and three sisters.

In 1858, at age 25, he was ordained as a priest in Ljubljana. He was appointed as an assistant in Loski Potok for two years, and then was transferred to Radece to fill a vacancy made by a priest who left to America on missions. Buh had also desired to go on foreign missions. He asked some of his fellow clergy members if they would join him. Father Francis Pierz heard his call. Pierz showed up with little warning and contacted Buh, who at first thought it was a gag; when he read in the newspaper in the following days that Pierz had requested his company, he realized his wishes were being granted. Buh and Pierz met and planned the journey, and left from Paris to arrive in New York.

In April of 1864 he arrived in St. Paul and traveled to Crow Wing. By 1865 he was working as a missionary to the Native American people of the Lake Winnibigoshish area, settling in Belle Prairie. The city of Brainerd was started in 1871 and he was involved in the foundation of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. In 1875 the Vicariate of Northern Minnesota was established. He carried out many missions among the native populations, eventually returning to the Belle Prarie area and settling in Perham. He also returned Austria a couple of times during this period; first to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and later to celebrate his Silver Jubilee.

In 1889 he was called to minister the Slovenes and other miners in Northern Minnesota, and he traveled back and forth between Tower and Duluth. During this time the Duluth Diocese was founded, with Bishop James McGolrick leading and Buh as his Vicar General. During this time he was acquainted with a fellow Slovene priest named Francis X. Bajec, who was newly ordained and had also come to the United States in 1883, though separately from Buh. Upon arrival Bajec realized there was no worker’s union in the area yet. He and Buh worked together with the area miners to establish a working and social union – a chapter of the St. Cyril and Method Society – to help the members with health expenses and to bring news from the old country to the States. Later, in 1897, he also created the Ely chapter of the society; around this time, the Tower chapter was absorbed into the Ely chapter, and the meeting hall in Tower was sold to Anton Gornick.

In 1891, Buh got involved with the Amerikanski Slovene, which at the time was “the only Slovenic newspaper in the United States.” Anton Murnik had started the paper, but due to ill health and lack of proper publicity, he would no longer be able to publish it. Buh decided to buy the paper from Murnik and continue to publish it, because he felt that the paper should not die before it could be fully realized. He took over writing, editing, and making layout copy, and oversaw the typesetting and printing. He had few subscribers, but he had a passion for the news and continued though it caused him significant financial debt. He called on a nephew, Max Buh, to come to America to help with typesetting. There was a small problem with the paper: since Buh came to the United States much earlier, the native language of the motherland had changed over time, and his own use of it had also changed. The paper was interspersed with English and there were numerous errors that his friends would point out. He graciously accepted the criticism and corrections and commended them for their interest in the paper. Due to political events, pressure from rivalry, and growing debts over the next few years, Buh sadly sold the paper to printers in Chicago in 1899, to Father Susteric of Joliet, Illinois.

Buh was instrumental in the formation of the American Slovene Catholic Union (KSKJ). It was formed in 1894 in Joliet, Illinois, by a congregation of Slovenes from Illinois and Minnesota. By 1898 the membership had grown from the original 500 members to 2,142, with 46 chapters or lodges around the country. It helped the members by providing life insurance; families of workers who died received $800 for expenses, and received $200 for spouses who died, to help with funeral expenses. The membership grew rapidly at this time, because the workers recognized their dangerous working conditions and wanted to protect their families from financial problems in the event they died before their time.

In 1899, Buh was awarded the title of Domestic Prelate of His Holiness, Leo XIII. He was the first and only Monsignor in northern Minnesota. The title is one of honor and designated him as a member of the pope’s household, similar to an honorary lord in royal courts. There was a large celebration in Duluth for the occasion.

Buh was fond of the native Americans that he was involved with, and was so passionate about them that he was allowed to keep a mission with the Bois Forte natives at Sucker Point, now known as the Vermilion reservation. He was involved in the Native American school, visiting every month on a Thursday by boat in the summer and by sled in the winter. He was a driving force in getting things the natives needed to improve their way of life, being a strong voice of concern and compassion. It was said that the Chippewa gave him two honored names: Masinaigans (Little Book) and Meshidong (Long Beard).

Buh transferred from Tower to Ely in 1900. During this era of his life he spent a lot of time traveling the state, as was his duty as vicar general. He ministered special services in Tower still, and still found time to take his missions to the natives at Sucker Point, which became weekly instead of monthly. He was also involved in the unveiling ceremony of the McKinley Monument, opening with a prayer and ending with a benediction. In 1908, Buh’s Golden Jubilee celebration was held in Duluth to much fanfare, celebrating 50 years of priesthood and service.

Buh officiated for many weddings and funerals – in just 1912 he performed 47 marriages and 37 funerals. He officiated the funeral for Mother Scholastica, who died in 1911 and was buried in Gethsemane, the cemetery on the recently established St. Scholastica campus.

Upon the death of Bishop James McGolrick of Duluth in 1918, Buh was called to Duluth to replace him in administrative duties. He continued his travels and missions, also still involved with the KSKJ and attending their meetings in Illinois. Father Frank Mihelcic, his assistant for years, managed Buh’s duties in Ely. Bishop McGolrick was replaced later in the year by Bishop John T. McNicholas in Duluth. Bishop McNicholas took Buh on as his vicar general, and installed him as chaplain of the Benedictine Sisters of the Sacred Heart Institute. In 1920 he was ministering at the St. James Orphanage in Woodland (Duluth) and living primarily in Chisholm.

By 1921, he was in charge of the Buh Mission House opened in Duluth. He lived there with a community of priests and young recruits on their own separate missions. They discussed grand ideas such as summer school and religious studies for students who otherwise had no avenue to learn about religion. He often talked to the students about the changes to the diocese he had witnessed in his lifetime. By 1926, hundreds of students had passed through the school and continued with their religious studies and passions.

Buh fell ill on January 30, 1922, and after a few short days, passed away on February 2nd – at the age of 89. His passing was quiet and peaceful. He was interred at the Calvary Cemetery in Duluth.

To learn more about Monsignor Joseph F. Buh, Slovenian Missionary in America, read the book “Masinaigans: The Little Book” by Sister Bernard Coleman, O.S.B. and Sister Verona LaBud, O.S.B. and published by North Central Publishing St. Paul, Minnesota in 1972. The Lake Vermilion Archives has acquired a copy of this book. Please contact us at info*AT* for more information.



A display dedicated to Father Buh, found at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, located in Duluth’s historic train depot. On the table are a few artifacts that belonged to Father Buh.


Monsignor Joseph Francis Buh

A photo of Buh, from the book Masinaigans: The Little Book.



Tower Weekly News, Vol XII, No. 28 – December 8, 1911

23 Years Ago in Tower… (originally published in the Vermilion Iron Journal on December 13th, 1888.)

The sociable at the new and comfortable residence of Rev. Father Buh was well attended last Thursday evening and many costly articles of furniture were presented to him, as well as a comfortable purse. The building is a credit to Tower and we are glad to see the reverend gentleman have such a cosy and well managed home. The evening passed off pleasantly and the refreshments were excellent beyond praise. The singing and music by Mrs. C. McNamara, Mrs. W. Wicks, Mrs. R. J. Williams and others was appreciated by all.

Tower Weekly News, Vol XIV, No. 36 – January 30, 1914

22 Years Ago in Tower… (originally published in the Vermilion Iron Journal on January 28th, 1892.)

The newspaper plant used by Anton Murnik, in Chicago in the publication of the Slavonic American has arrived in this city, and about February 5th, Father Buh will resume the publication of the paper in this city. It will be a six column folio and the presswork will be done in the Journal office. Mr. Murnik, who has returned to Tower will assist Father Buh in the work of publication.

Tower Weekly News, Vol XVI, No. 39 – February 20, 1914

22 Years Ago in Tower… (originally published in the Vermilion Iron Journal on February 18th, 1892.)

Father Buh has resigned as pastor of the Roman Catholic church at Two Harbors, being compelled to do so in order to find sufficient time to devote to the editorial work of his forthcoming paper, the Slavonic American. Rev. Patrick Hendricks, a recent graduate from the college of propaganda at Rome, who was ordained last Sunday at the Pro Cathedral in Duluth, will succeed Father Buh in the work at Two Harbors.

Tower Weekly News, Vol V, No. 13 – September 2, 1904


All persons owning shares in the St. Cyril and Method Society, are hereby notified that a meeting, for the purpose of transacting important business, will be held at the parsonage of St. Martin’s church on Thursday, evening, Sept. 8th at 4 o’clock p.m,. when it is desired that all share-holders be present.
By order of
Jos. F, Buh, Manager.


Notice is hearby given that sealed bids will be received by the undersigned up to 10 o’clock a. m. of Wednesday, Sept. 21st. 1904, for the purchase of lot 16 block 9 (better known as the lot whereon the opera house was located) together with all brick and material thereon. The owners reserve the right to reject any or all bids. Address bids to Jos. F. Buh, Manager, Ely, Minn.

Tower Weekly News, Vol. IX, No. 8 – July 24, 1908

Golden Jubilee

Right Rev. Joseph F. Buh, V.G. to Celebrate Event Sundays July 19th and 26th.

Next Sunday at the Cathedral at Duluth, Right Rev. Jos. F. Buh, V. G. of this city, will celebrate his golden jubilee of priesthood. The services will begin at 10:30 a.m. and a number of bishops and priests will be present. The Cathedral choir will be assisted by Flaaten’s Orchestra. Several from this city will be present.

A week from Sunday Father Buh will hold a celebration in this city and a large number of dignitaries of the church and outside guests will be present. The celebrations are fraught with much interest to all the people of Ely and Tower regardless of religious affiliations as the venerable gentleman has resided in these towns since the beginning and has endeared himself to the people therein. About the end of the month Father Buh will sail for his boyhood home in Austria where he will remain until next spring. The following biographical sketch of Monsignor Buh is taken from the Herald and as it covers all points to be gathered we reproduce it. The Herald says:

“Mgr. Joseph F. Buh, the venerable prelate, enjoys, after a long life fraught with sacrifice and the accomplishment of much good, the rare happiness of celebrating his golden jubilee of priesthood. He was born on March 17, 1833, in the village of Lucnje, Kran, Austria. His boyhood days were spent at his father’s home in the rural district of Lucnje. It was there that pious and Godfearing parents laid the foundation of his future successful career by instilling into his young heart the first and essential principles of religion and patriotism.”

“In pursuit of higher education he frequently attended the high school and provincial seminary in the city of Laibach, where, on July 25, 1858, he was ordained to holy priesthood by the Right Rey. Aloysius Wolf, for the diocese of Laibach.”

“During his pastorate of three years at Lasrerbach, aud three years at Ratec, he heard from the missionaries of the spiritual needs of the emigrants and the scarcity of missionaries in the New World, especially among the Indians of the Northwest. In 1864, upon the special request of Father Francis Pierz, the first missionary of Northern Minnesota, be came to the diocese of St. Paul, then comprising the present state of Minnesota, and the Dakotas as far west as the Missouri river. During six months he remained at the bishop’s house preparing several theological students for holy orders. In November of the same years Bishop Grace appointed him to assist Father Pierz in the Missions at Crow Wing, Minnesota.”

“In January, 1865, he went to the Indian village situated on Lake Winnibigoshish, on the border of the present Itasca and Cass counties, where he spent several months acquainting himself with the Chippewa language and customs. Here for the first time Father Buh experienced the usual hardships of the Indian missionary who devotes his life to the spiritual as well as material uplifting of the children of the wilderness. To live among a barbarous people in the wilds of the primeval forests, deprived of the sight of the white man’s face and the melody of his native tongue to inhabit the unkempt and little cared-for wigwam of the Indian, and to share his crude and unsavory meal of maise and game, and in all this to be suspected and treated as a spy of the hated white man, takes a greater motive than earthly gain and honor. Early in spring of the same year the Indians left their winter camp for their usual fishing expedition. With a stealth and cunning found only among the natives of America, they made the necessary preparations, and before Father Buh could realize their intent, they paddled away in their canoes, leaving him along on the abandoned camping grounds, a second Cruso, with the babbling Winnibigoshish wilderness behind him. After wandering for some time along the lake shore, he encountered an Indian scout, who, after many entreaties, consented to direct him to a settlement of whites.”

The same summer he took charge of the settlement at Belle Prairies, Minn., from where he attended to the spiritual wants of the whites and Indians of Morrison, Todd, Mille Lacs and Crow Wing counties. As the pioneers gradually pushed northward, Father Buh was always to be found on the frontiers among the Indians and the few explorers who ventured into the pineries of Northern Minnesota. During this period of about sixteen years he established mission centers for Indians at Red Lake, Leech Lake, Sandy Lake and Grand Rapids, Minn. His visits to the Fond du Lac and La Point Indians brought him to Duluth, where, from the year 1874 till 1875, he was resident priest in care of the church where now stands the cathedral.

In 1882 he took charge of the parish of Perham, Ottertail county, and tributary missions, the principal of which are Moorhead, Detroit and Brainerd. After spending two years at Little Falls he was in 1888, appointed by the Rt. Rev. Rubert Siedenbush, O. E. B., pastor of St. Martin’s church, Tower, Minn. The same year he established a permanent mission at Two Harbors, and in 1890 at Ely, Biwabik, Virginia, Hibbing and Mt. Iron. The first church built at Ely, his present charge was solemnly dedicated Thanksgivimg day, 1890.

The second, the one at present used for divine worship, was dedicated by Rt. Rev. Bishop McGolrick, the Sunday before Thanksgiving day, 1900. In 1901 he was appointed pastor at Ely, where he has labored since, attending several missions and the United States Industrial School for Indians, at Tower, of which he is at present government chaplin.

“Owing to his valuable labors within the territory that now comprises the diocese of Duluth, Rt. Rev. James McGolrick created him vicar general at the establishment of the diocese in 1889. Rome recognized and rewarded the self denial consistent and enthusiastic work of Father Buh. By apostolic brief of Leo XIII, he was made prelate of the papal household and inrested with the purple in the Cathedral church Dec. 27, 1889, by Archbishop Ireland.”

“Though 75 years old the Monsignor continues his missionary work as in the past. His influence for good on the ranges, not only among his own but other nationalities, is well known to all. His gentleness, his evenness of temperament, his charming affability, his self-sacrificing spirit, his doing God’s work in silence, have won for him the admiration, love and esteem of all classes.” — Ely Miner.

Tower Weekly News, Vol. XIV, No. 42 – March 13, 1914

Father Buh, of Ely, was in the city this week on his regular monthly trip to Tower and to the Indian school across the lake. He held services there on Wednesday evening and on Thursday morning, returning to his home on the noon train of Thursday. Father Buh was once a newspaper man in the city, editing a Slovenian paper in the early 80s. He has spent fifty years as a missionary in the great north woods of Minnesota and at his age of eighty one years is yet active in the great work of saving souls. A kindly man indeed is our own Father Buh, and respected by us all for his blameless life and his deep devotion to the cause of humanity and the saving of men from themselves the grandest calling in the world today.

Tower Weekly News, Vol. XVII, No. 18 – September 22, 1916

Tuesday was Confirmation Day in the local Catholic church. Nearly a hundred old and young were confirmed on that day. Four priests were in attendance at the impressive ceremonies, Bishop McGolrick, of Duluth, Father Maloney, of Buhl, Father Buh, of Ely and Father Ferjancich, the local priest. The house was crowded to witness the confirmation. Father Buh brought about thirty Indians from his charge at the Vermilion Lake Indian school to be confirmed.

Tower Weekly News, Vol. XIX, No. 14 – August 23, 1918

The old Sovde building, condemned some time since by the State Fire Marshal, will soon be a thing of the past. John Oberg, who bought the building and is tearing it down, has about completed his task. He will use the salvaged lumber to build a residence on his farm east of town. Another old building that is being razed this week is the big two story structure at the rear of the new school. Years ago it was used for school purposes but later it was moved to its present location and for a time was used as a hall by the various lodges. Albert Bystrom recently bought the building from its owner, Rev. Jos. F. Buh. will use the old lumber to enlarge his boat building plant.

Tower Weekly News, Vol. XX, No. 33 – January 2, 1920

Rt. Rev. Jos. F. Buh, who has been a central figure in Catholic church activities in Northern Minnesota for many years, was celebrant at solemn high mass at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Duluth, last Sunday morning. The occasion marked Father Buh’s thirtieth anniversary as vicar general of the Roman Catholic diocese of Duluth and also marked the beginning of his twenty-first year as monsignor. The kindly priest was born nearly eighty-seven years ago in that part of Austria which is now under Czecho-Slovak rule. In 1864 he came to Minnesota and for twenty years lived near Little Falls. Leaving Little Falls, he was active in church work for a few years throughout Minnesota before finally taking up his residence in Tower in 1888. He worked in various parts of the iron range until he took over the administratorship of the Duluth diocese.

Tower Weekly News, Vol. XXII, No. 25 – November 4, 1921

A meeting was held at the Vermilion Hotel last Saturday evening to discuss plans for the dedicating of the McKinley monument. The exercises will be very Elaborate. Senator Clapp of St. Paul, Rev. Dr. Forbes and Thos. McKeon of Duluth, and Rev. Jos. F. Buh of Ely, haye been secured to speak and excursion trains will be run from Duluth and all the range towns in order that outside residents may hear the noted speakers and witness the unveiling of the first monument erected in the United States in honor of our martyred President.

Tower Weekly News, Vol. XXII, No. 38 – February 3, 1922

Monsignor Joseph F. Buh, aged 89, vicar general of the Duluth diocese and pioneer Catholic priest in Minnesota, died early yesterday morning at St. Mary’s hospital, Duluth, where he has been ill since Sunday. The death of Monsignor Buh marks the passing of one of the best known and most charitable priests in the state and his demise is mourned by both Protestants and Catholics alike as he was a good friend to all who knew him.

For a number of years Rev. Buh was in charge of the local Catholic church and at one time edited an Austrian paper here.

Tower Weekly News, Vol. XXII, No. 42 – March 3, 1922

Contrary to popular rumors that Father Buh left a large estate, it is found a well known fact among the reverend gentleman’s friends, that the larger part of his earthly possessions had been distributed among his relatives and worthy institutions during the years of his progressive life, according to the Ely Miner. Those who were acquainted with the venerable priest will corroborate the fact that he was recognized as one of the most benevolent and kind-hearted men in this section of the country and that he materially assisted many friends and charitable institutions with his savings.


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