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Servant of God Demetrius Gallitzin

  • HEATHER KING

Servant of God Demetrius Gallitzin came to be known as the Apostle of the Alleghenies.


gallitzen2Servant of God Demetrius Gallitzin (1770-1840), Russian émigré and priest, came to be known during his more than forty years serving the area in and around Cambria County, Pennsylvania, as the Apostle of the Alleghenies.

Demetrius was born to Russian royalty: his father was a prince, his mother a countess.  He was baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church, but his mother was a fervent Catholic.  Just before he turned seventeen, Demetrius, too, was confirmed into the Catholic Church and received his First Communion. 

He briefly embarked upon a military career, but his parents decided that he should first spend two years traveling through the West Indies and America.  He boarded ship at Rotterdam on August 19, 1792, with a letter of introduction to Bishop John Carroll, and reached Baltimore in October of that year.  Quickly grasping the extent of the help needed by the fledgling Church in America, he enrolled in Baltimore's Saint Mary's Seminary as one of its first students.

In 1793, Bishop Carroll was bequeathed 400 acres in Cambria, Pennsylvania, in trust for the benefit of resident clergy.  The land was part of a huge holding called McGuire's Settlement, later Clearfield. 

Demetrius was ordained a priest on March 18, 1795.  He began to serve in the scattered settlements of southern Pennsylvania, northern Maryland, and Virginia.  In 1796, he made a sick call on a Protestant woman named Mrs. John Burgoon, who desperately desired to convert to Catholicism before dying.  The incident moved Father Demetrius deeply.  Thereafter, he was inspired to devote his considerable fortune to establishing a Catholic settlement in the Alleghenies. 

With Bishop Carroll's blessing, he purchased land adjacent to McGuire's Settlement and established his residence there.  He built a church of pine logs, sourced from trees in the surrounding forest.  He named his parish Loretto, after the Italian site of Marian devotion.  He was given jurisdiction over all territory within a hundred mile radius. 

For twenty years, he was the sole priest, shepherding the sole Catholic church, in this vast wilderness area.  He repeatedly begged Bishop Carroll for even one more priest, but in all that time, none came. 

He also introduced innovative methods of cultivation, lent money, established tanneries and grist-mills.  He spent his entire fortune on his flock and then went into debt for them. 

He could have spent his life, back in Russia, in aristocratic luxury.  Instead, he rode his horse over rugged terrain, in sweltering summer heat and bitter winter cold.  He was at various times vilified for "popery," accused of stealing, and subjected to personal violence.  He published the tract "A Defense of Catholic Principles" and observed, "Whatever differences on points of doctrine may exist amongst the different denominations of Christian, all should be united in the bonds of charity." 

He died on May 6, 1840, some said of exhaustion.  His home was located thirty yards from his church.  He was buried, at his request, halfway between them.

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Acknowledgement

king Heather King. "Servant of God Demetrius Gallitzin." Magnificat (February 2018). 

This article is reprinted with permission from Magnificat.

The Author

king king1 Heather King is a sober alcoholic, an ex-lawyer, a Catholic convert, and a full-time writer. She is the author of: Parched, Redeemed: Stumbling Toward God, Marginal Sanity, and the Peace That Passes All Understanding, Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Poor Baby, Stripped, Holy Days and Gospel Reflectionsand Stumble: Virtue, Vice, and the Space Between. She lives in Los Angeles. Visit her website here

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