Today marks the birth of a priest known as “the Apostle of the Alleghenies,” one of the true pioneers of Catholic America. Born a Russian aristocrat, the son of a Prince, Demetrius Gallitzin converted to Catholicism at age seventeen. (He took the middle name Augustine at that time.) After traveling to the United States on a tour, he decided to stay and become a Catholic priest, thereby foregoing his inheritance. He studied at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, the nation’s first Catholic seminary, and was ordained in 1795 (the first priest to do all his theological studies in the United States).
For most of his forty-five years as a priest, he worked in the Allegheny region. In 1869, one biographer noted: “What now constitutes the dioceses of Pittsburg [sic], Erie, and a large part of the Harrisburg new episcopal see, was then the missionary field of a single priest, Rev. Prince Gallitzin.” (He once made a 150-mile sick call.) In 1799, he founded the Catholic settlement of Loretto, Pennsylvania. Located eighty miles east of Pittsburgh, it is now home to St. Francis University. He traveled throughout the western part of the state, visiting the Catholics scattered throughout the region. On several instances he was considered for a bishop’s miter, but he always turned it down. The town of Gallitzin was founded after his death.Anti-Catholicism was strong at this time, in a region where Catholics were a rare commodity. In the midst of his missionary activities, Father Gallitzin found time to several books defending the Catholic faith, but he tried to emphasize the things all Christians had in common:
Whatever differences on points of doctrine may exist amongst the different denominations of Christians, all should be united in the bonds of charity, all should pray for one another, all should be willing to assist one another; and, where we are compelled to disapprove of our neighbor’s doctrine, let our disapprobation fall upon his doctrine only, not upon his person.
In 2005, his cause for canonization was opened and he was named a Servant of God. Father Prince Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, pray for us!
(*The above drawing of Prince Gallitzin is by Pat McNamara.)