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The Russian prince who brought the Gospel to Pennsylvania

St. Patrick Church | CC

Philip Kosloski - published on 04/30/17

Prince, priest and missionary, Demetrius Gallitzin is known as the "Apostle of the Alleghenies."

Born at The Hague, Holland in 1770, Demetrius Gallitzin was raised in one of the most illustrious families of Russia. His father, Prince Demetrius Gallitzin, was the Russian ambassador to Holland, having previously been the ambassador in France for 14 years. It was in France that his father became an intimate acquaintance of leading rationalists Diderot, Voltaire, and d’Alembert.

While Gallitzin’s father was a nominally practicing Russian Orthodox, his mother had been baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and was originally from Prussia. However, they barely educated their son in Christianity and simply had him baptized into the Orthodox faith.

Being from a family of such high prominence, Gallitzin was given the best secular education of the time and grew to have great intellectual capabilities. At the age of 17, Gallitzin freely attached himself to the Catholic faith, and in honor of his mother who had a devotion to Saint Augustine, took Augustine as his confirmation name. After that point Gallitzin wrote his name as, “Demetrius Augustine.”

At first Gallitzin had hopes for a military career, but that did not pan out as expected, so his parents suggested that he spend some time traveling. They gave him a letter to be presented to Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore and he was to be accompanied by his tutor, Father Brosius. While in America, he didn’t want the inconveniences associated with being a prince and so traveled under the name of Augustine Smith.

After arriving in Baltimore, Gallitzin was inspired to become a priest when he saw the many needs of the fledgling Church in America. Despite suffering ridicule and opposition from relatives in Europe, Gallitzin enrolled as one of the first students at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.

On March 18, 1795, Gallitzin became one of the first to be ordained in the newly established United States of America. Father Gallitzin was assigned to ministry in Baltimore as well as the many new missions in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. During this time he received a request from a dying woman who was Protestant but wanted to become Catholic before she died. Gallitzin traveled to her home in the Allegheny Mountains and instructed her in the faith. While there, he had a vision of establishing a Catholic community and purchased the surrounding property with this intention.

He received permission from Bishop Carroll to fix his residence there and minister to the people of the Alleghenies. Gallitzin eventually founded the town of Loreto, Pennsylvania, and was pastor there until his death. He established a church there in honor of Saint Michael, which is now known as the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel. Gallitzin worked for more than 40 years in Pennsylvania; during most of this time, he was the only priest for miles around.

His faithfulness and determination to spread the Gospel to the early settlers of America were inspiring. In 2005 Bishop Joseph Adamec announced that the Congregation of Saints had permitted the title of “servant of God” and approved the start of the canonization process. The cause for Gallitzin’s canonization is still awaiting the approval of a miracle to pave the way for a future beatification.

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