Cause for the Canonization of
Servant of God
"Apostle of the Alleghenies"
Catholic Register - Biographical Sketch
March 10, 2005
Jose Cardinal Saraiva Martins
Congregation for the Causes of Saints
Piazza Pio XII 10
00193 Rome, Italy
In accord with Norm 15 of the Instruction of the Congregation for Causes of Saints, I wish respectfully to inquire whether there is anything known to the Holy See, that might impede the introduction of the cause of beatification and canonization of the Reverend Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, fondly known as the Apostle of the Alleghenies.
Demetrius Gallitzin was born on 22 December 1770, at The Hague, Netherlands. He was the younger of two children. His father was Prince Dimitri Alexeievitch Gallitzin, Envoy Extraordinary of the Empress Catherine the Great. Through his father, Demetrius was a distant relative of Saint Casimir (died 1484). His mother was the Countess Amalia von Schmettau, daughter of Field Marshall von Schmettau of Prussia.
As a child, Demetrius was exposed to different religious denominations of the Christian Faith. His father was a Russian Orthodox as well as a Freemason and, while in Paris, had served as the Grand Master of the Oriental Lodge. Demetrius' mother was the child of a mixed marriage. Her father was Lutheran and all the sons were raised as Lutherans. Her mother was Roman Catholic, so the daughters were raised as Roman Catholics.
While Countess Amalia was very devout and pious until her marriage, Prince Dimitri introduced his wife into staunchly humanist Enlightenment circles and so encouraged her in the spirit of religious indifference that marked the age. Demetrius himself was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church. His godmother was the Empress Catherine the Great.
At the age of ten, Demetrius was taken by his mother (with his sister) to a country estate near Munster called Angelmodde. There young Demetrius received his education. His principal instructor was his mother. During their years at Angelmodde, Amalia returned to the practice of her Catholic faith, and in the succeeding years instructed her son and daughter in the Roman Catechism. On Trinity Sunday, 1787, Demetrius became a Catholic. He wrote many years later: "Raised in prejudice against Revelation, I felt every disposition to ridicule those very principles and practices which I have adopted since....although born a member of the Great Orthodox Church, and although all my male relatives were either Greeks or Protestants, yet did I resolve that religion only which, upon impartial inquiry, should appear to me to be the pure religion of Jesus Christ. My choice fell upon the Catholic Church."
Prince Gallitzin was very disturbed about his son's conversion. First, he was concerned about his own position at the imperial court; second, he worried for his son's future career; and third, he was appalled at his family's abandonment of the Enlightenment for Catholicism.
On 18 August 1792, Demetrius set sail from Rotterdam to Baltimore. His traveling companion was the Reverend Francis Xavier Brosius, who was coming to America to serve as a missionary. The travelers arrived in Balitmore on 28 October 1792 and were welcomed soon after by Bishop (later Archbishop) John Carroll, the first bishop in the United States. To Bishop Carroll's surprise and pleasure, the young nobleman announced his ardent desire to become a priest and to serve in the missions of North America. Eight days later, with the approval of Bishop Carroll, Demetrius was enrolled as a student in Saint Mary's Seminary.
Father Gallitzin was ordained to the priesthood on 18 March 1795 by Bishop John Carroll. Father Smith (as he preferred to be known at that time) is the first person to complete seminary studies and receive all his Orders in the United States.
His first priestly assignment was to Sacred Heart Church, Conewago, (now a minor basilica) in August 1795. It was from there that he became acquainted with the Allegheny Mountains, as the result of a sick call. For four years, Father Gallitzin petitioned Bishop Carroll to be sent to Western Pennsylvania, then just a frontier. On 1 March 1799, Father's request was granted, and he was appointed Pastor of McGuire's Settlement, now known as Loretto, Pennsylvania. He celebrated his first Mass in Saint Michael Church, McGuire Settlement, at midnight, 25 December 1799. He spent the next forty-one years serving as a priest and missionary in the wilderness of his beloved mountains, even though, by remaining, he forfeited his inheritance and never saw his family again.
Father Gallitzin was solely responsible for founding missions at Bedford, Ebensburg, Frankstown, Hart's Sleeping Place, Newry, Huntingdon, Wilmore, Johnstown, Cresson and Somerset. He also founded other missions such as Saint Peter's in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. He served as Vicar General for Western Pennsylvania (which now encompasses several dioceses) for many years. The territory he served amounted to thousands of square miles.
This zealous and dedicated priest was also responsible for the growth of McGuire's Settlement. Father Gallitzin used his personal money to assist families to settle in what he envisioned as a Catholic community. He changed the name to Loretto, in order to reflect his devotion to Mary as well as his dream that the town would be a Catholic light to the young nation.
In addition to his pastoral ministry to the extensive flock under his charge, Father Gallitzin used his great intelligence to defend the Faith. In response to attacks upon the Catholic Church, he published articles such as "Defense of Catholic Principles", "An Appeal to the Protestant Public", "Letter to the Protestant Friend on the Holy Scriptures", "The Bible: Truth and Charity."
In 1834, while on a pastoral journey, Gallitzin was thrown from his horse. He suffered a severe leg injury, which ended his horse riding days. In order to continue serving his people, he used a form of sleigh to transport him over the mountains. Such rides still caused pain to his leg with every journey. This unceasing ministry in the harsh wilderness, along with the lingering effects of his injury, contributed to his death on May 6, 1840.
Father Gallitzin never wavered in his service of the Church in the wilderness of Western Pennsylvania. He offered his life. He surrendered his wealth. He gave up his family. He refused offers of Episcopal Sees in the United Stated and Europe in order to continue to serve as the only priest within the area from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to St. Louis, Missouri. He spent himself totally in service of the Faith and as a model priest.
The Reverend Prince (as we call him) is very fondly remembered to this day by people in various parts of the United States. Thousands of visitors come yearly to visit the Chapel House, which was the site of Father Gallitzin's first church, and to pray at his tomb. The present Saint Michael Church has recently been named a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II.
I, the undersigned Diocesan Bishop, do believe that the Reverend Prince Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin should be honored by the Church in raising him up as an example of unselfish love, service, and Faith. Our Faithful would be greatly encouraged in their Faith by a positive response from your Eminence, hearing that their evangelizer could, some day, be officially recognized by the Holy See.
Devotedly yours in the Lord,
(Most Rev.) Joseph V. Adamec
Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown