From Russian Prince to Frontier Priest

Today marks the birth of Demetrius Gallitzin (1770-1840), a Russian aristocrat who became a missionary in Pennsylvania during the nation’s early years. As a young man he converted to Catholicism. While he was visiting America he decided to stay and become a priest. In 1795 he became the first priest ordained in the U.S. who received minor and major orders here. With his own money, he founded a settlement for Catholics in western Pennsylvania in 1799, which he named Loretto. For much of the next forty years, he worked in the Alleghenies. It was said that he was offered a mitre in Detroit and later Cincinnati, but that he refused both. Gallitzin was also famous as an apologist for his published defenses of Catholicism. He died at Loretto on May 6, 1840. The town of Gallitzin was named in his honor. His cause for canonization is under consideration. At the time of his death it was said:

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 may be literally said of him, if his heart had been made of gold, he would have disposed of it all in charity to the poor.

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