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Portrait: Prince Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, Apostle of the Alleghenies

March 17, 2007

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“The true minister of Christ, dear sir, speaking in the name of his divine master, must speak with authority, with certainty, without any hesitation, on all the different mysteries of religion on which he is obliged to instruct his flock. Woe to the wretch who shall deliver his private opinions, his own uncertain notions, as the word of God; and thus often give poison for wholesome food; the productions of weak and corrupted reason for divine revelations.

The idea we have of a minister of Christ, you will perceive, is precisely the same which the first Christians must have had. Surely, dear sir, the church in 1815 must be the same as it was in the beginning: the same kind of pastors, provided with the same powers, administering the same baptism, the same Eucharist or Lord’s supper; in short, all the same sacraments, and preaching the same doctrine.”

– From “Defence of Catholic Principles in A Letter to A Protestant Minister” by Fr. Demtrius Gallitzin

“When he wanted to build up the Catholic community, “Catholic community” meant more than just church on Sunday. It meant all the facets of community life.”

“He carried a cross, a rucksack, and a missionary’s zeal for introducing Catholicism in a new land where religious freedom was still a work in progress. But he was not like the others; Gallitzin was a prince.”

“Father Gallitzin understood that the Catholic Church was going to survive in the United States, one soul, one family, one church, and one parish at a time.”

“Father Gallitzin had a vision of a Catholic community, a strongly Catholic community where the Catholic faith would be nurtured, where the whole community would have a sense of their being part of the kingdom of God.”

– Quotations from Religion & Ethics Newsweekly: Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin: The Prince Priest December 22, 1999

The sainthood cause for the second priest ordained in the United States, a Russian prince who became known as the “apostle of the Alleghenies,” has been initiated by the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Bishop Joseph V. Adamec of Altoona-Johnstown held the opening session of the diocesan inquiry for the canonization cause of Father Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin March 11 at the Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel in Loretto. The son of Prince Demetrius Alexeivich Gallitzin, the ambassador of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia to the Netherlands, Prince Demetrius Augustine was born at The Hague Dec. 22, 1770. Baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church with Empress Catherine as his godmother, Prince Demetrius became a Catholic at the age of 17 when his German-born mother, Countess Amalia von Schmettau, returned to the practice of the faith of her birth. Because of his conversion to Catholicism, Demetrius was denied a place at the imperial Russian court. In 1792 he sailed from Rotterdam to the New World, and within eight days of his arrival in Baltimore, Prince Demetrius entered St. Mary’s Seminary there.

– From Catholic News Service: Sainthood cause opened for Russian prince turned pioneer priest

He landed in Baltimore on October 28 of that same year, and changed his name to Augustine Schmettau, to avoid the inconvenience and expense of traveling as a Russian prince. This name was then altered to Smith and he was known as Augustine Smith for many years after. Not long after his arrival, he became enthralled by the needs of the Church in the United States. He decided to become a priest, and entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore as one of its first students. His parents, displeased with his choice, begged him to return home. His father, who had secured him a commission in the Russian army, warned that his decision would deny him succession in the family inheritance.

Such an entreaty had little effect on Gallitzin, who proceeded through the Sulpician seminary and, on March 18, 1795, became the first in the original colonies of the United States to receive all the rites of Holy Orders from tonsure to priesthood. He began to exercise his ministry in Baltimore, and in missions in southern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland and Virginia. In 1796, he received a call from an ill Protestant in what was then McGuire’s settlement, located in what is now Cambria County, Pennsylvania. The patient requested his assistance in that she desired to become Catholic before her death. Father Gallitzin went to her and began the process of conversion. While he was there, he visualized the idea of creating a Catholic settlement in the middle of the Allegheny region.

In order to make this idea a reality, Father Gallitzin invested his financial assets in the purchase of four hundred acres of land, and received permission from Bishop Carroll to establish residence there with a jurisdiction whose radius was larger than one hundred miles. In the summer of 1799, he officially began his tenure as the first priest of the Alleghenies. He built an initial log church that measured 44 feet by 25 feet. As the number of Catholics in the area increased, Gallitzin took measures in 1808 to double the capacity of the structure. As the population continued to augment, he tore the log building down in 1817 and replaced it with a frame church, which became the parish church until 1853.

It was upon this foundation that Father Gallitzin named this colony Loretto, after the Marian shrine in Loreto, Italy, as the Virgin Mary is deeply revered in the Catholic faith. In addition to his expansions of the Church, he made it his mission to tend to his followers, creating farms, saw-mills, grist-mills and tanneries along the countryside and feeding and sheltering those in need. It is estimated that he spent at least $150,000 of his inheritance, a small portion of what he was to receive, under the assumption that he could repay the debt when he came into the funds. This was not to be, however. The Russian government disinherited him for becoming a Catholic and a priest, and the German prince who married his sister spent both his and her inheritance. Through petitions to Bishop Carroll, Pope Gregory XVI and a sympathetic public, Gallitzin was able to keep most of his operations afloat, though he did not repay his full debt until shortly before his death.

Amidst this monetary controversy, Gallitzin also became aware of general attacks on Catholics by Protestants in the colonies. After a sermon delivered in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania in 1814 by a Protestant minister related Catholics to heathens and denounced the “popery,” Gallitzin became the first in the United States to defend the Church. In response, Gallitzin published his “Defence of Catholic Principles,” which was shortly followed by the less known “A Letter on the Holy Scriptures” and “An Appeal to the Protestant Public.”

Gallitzin continued to expand his missions in Loretto, hoping to create the town as an Episcopal see. In 1827, he accepted the office of the Vicar-General for Western Pennsylvania, because he felt it could promote the interests of the Church, but rejected proposals for nomination as the first Bishop of Cincinnati and first Bishop of Detroit, wanting to remain close to home.

On May 6, 1840, Gallitzin passed away. He was buried as he wished, midway between his residence and the church he erected, which were approximately thirty feet apart. In 1847, his remains were moved to a vault in a field close to the center of town and a monument was created out of rough mountain stone. In 1891, his remains were placed in a metallic casket and, in 1899, upon the foundation of the Loretto Mission, the former monument was capped by a bronze-statue of Gallitzin, donated by Charles M. Schwab. Schwab also donated funds toward a large stone church in Gallitzin’s name, which was consecrated on October 2, 1901.

– From Pennsylvania Center for the Book: Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin

In this extraordinary man we have not only to admire his renunciation of the brightest hopes and prospects; his indefatigable zeal-but something greater and rarer-his wonderful humility. No one could ever learn from him or his mode of life, what he had been, or what he had exchanged for privation and poverty. To intimate to him that you were aware of his condition, would be sure to pain and displease him. He who might have reveled in the princely halls of his ancestors, was content to spend thirty years in a rude log cabin, almost denying himself the common comforts of life, that he might be able to clothe the naked members of Jesus Christ, the poor and distressed. Few have left behind them such examples of charity and benevolence. On the head of no one have been invoked so many blessings from the mouths of widows and orphans. It maybe literally said of him “If his heart had been made of gold he would have disposed of it all in charity to the poor.”

– From RootsWeb: Obituary of Fr. Demetrius, Mountaineer, May 14, 1840

* * *

Intercessory Prayer
GRACIOUS and LOVING GOD, in your divine providence, you have made grow in a generous way the seeds of faith sown by your faithful servant, SERVANT OF GOD DEMETRIUS A. GALLITZIN. May you listen to his intercession for us, as we humbly beseech you to come to our aid. As a result of his pastoral zeal, he brought us to your Son Jesus and to his Church. Pour out your mercies upon us now and hear our prayer.

We pray that you lay your healing hand on (insert name of person or situation needing intercession). May all be well according to your will.

As for us, we ask for the courage to live as your faithful disciples. May we do so in the strength of your Spirit, in witness to Jesus, as did Demetrius when he preached your Word and baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

* * *

See also:
Official Site: Cause for the Canonization of Servant of God, Demetrius Gallitzin, “Apostle of the Alleghenies”

Official Site: Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel, Loretto, PA
Official Site: St. Demetrius Parish, Gallitzin, PA
Official Site: Mount Gallitzin Academy

Wikipedia: Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin
Catholic Encyclopedia: Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin

Tribune-Democrat: Ceremony is latest step in sainthood push for Prince Gallitzin
Catholic Online: Sainthood cause of prince-priest, Father Gallitzin, advances
Explore PA History: Historical Markers: Demetrius Gallitzin, Catholic colony of Loretto

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From → Portraits

One Comment
  1. I’m touched and moved by this description of a wonderful follower of Jesus Christ. May the essence of his movement be embraced by us, today, in the interest of healing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
    Amen.

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