Sanctity in America: Servant of God Demetrius Augustine Gallitzen

Prince Dimitri Dimitrievich Gallitzen was born on December 22, 1770 at the Hague, South Holland, Netherlands. His father was a prince and the Russian ambassador to the Netherlands and his mother was a Prussian Countess. When Dimitri was only two years old, Empress Catherine the Great visited the Hague and cradled the boy in her arms, appointing him an officer of the guard in honor of his father’s service to his country. His childhood was one of extraordinary privilege. His best friend was William Frederick of the Netherlands, who would later become William I, King of the Netherlands and Duke of Luxemburg. His mother would take young Dimitri and his sister, Maria Anna, on summer trips to the great cities of Germany.

While his family was nominally Orthodox, religion was not very important in Dimitri’s family during his childhood. In 1786, however, his mother returned to the Catholicism of her own youth, and Dimitri followed suit when he turned 17. In honor of his mother’s birthday and wedding day of August 28, Dimitri took for confirmation the name Augustine, and forever after signed his name Demetrius Augustine. His father, however, was unhappy with his conversion and desired that his son return to the Orthodox faith, not necessarily because his father was devout, but because it was advantageous for young Russians who desired to move up in society.

After a stint in the military, Demetrius took to travel in order to expand his experience and education. The French Revolution made it dangerous to travel Europe, so he set his eyes on America. His mother provided him with letters from the prince bishops of Europe as an introduction to Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, and Demetrius was accompanied by his priest-tutor, Fr. Brosius. They arrived in Baltimore in October of 1792. To avoid the expense and bother of traveling as a Russian prince, Demetrius assumed the name Augustine Schmettau, which was anglicized to “Smith,” so for many years after he was known as “Augustine Smith.”

While in the United States, Demetrius became interested in the concerns of the Church in America and made the decision to enter seminary. This caused horror to his father, who petitioned Catherine the Great to bestow upon his son a commission in the palace guards. Catherine did so and formally called Demetrius back to Russia to assume his duties. Demetrius instead entered St. Sulpice Seminary in Baltimore and was ordained on March 18, 1795. A fascinating episode of Fr. Gallitzen’s life as a priest includes a trip he made in the company of Fr. Dennis Cahill to Middleway, WV, to investigate a supposed haunted house. For many years residents of the town claimed that “Wizard Clip” was haunted by a Catholic who died without benefit of the sacraments because his Lutheran boarder named Livingston refused to send for a priest. Supposedly, the supernatural events the Livingston family endured came to a stop after Fr. Gallitzen celebrated Mass in the home. Livingston subsequently bequeathed 35 acres to the Catholic Church “for favors granted”!

After serving in various ministries in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Fr. Gallitzen came to Cambria County in Pennsylvania to establish a Catholic parish on grounds bequeathed to the Church. He used the engineering experience he obtained in the military to plan out a small town in the Pennsylvania hills and named it Loretto after a place of devotion to the Blessed Mother in Italy. At Loretto, Fr. Gallitzen established the parish of St. Michael the Archangel, the first Catholic parish west of the Allegheny Front and for some time the only Catholic Church between Lancaster, PA and St. Louis, MO! The parish remains active today and is now the Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel. In 1802, Fr. Gallitzen became a naturalized American citizen under the name Augustine Smith, which he later legally changed back to Demetrius Augustine Gallitzen.

When Fr. Gallitzen began his ministry at Loretto there were few Catholics and they lived many miles apart from each other. In order to attract more Catholic families, Fr. Gallitzen purchased land with his own money, then sold or gave that land to Catholic settlers. As well, Fr. Gallitzen built a grist mill and sawmill to help his small commnity prosper. Most of this time in ministry was spent alone. Fr. Gallitzen wrote to Bishop Carroll asking that he send another priest to accompany him in his ministry, both for service and fellowship. Fr. Gallitzen’s ministry to the people of Pennsylvania including publishing a number of tracts explaining the Catholic faith and defending Catholicism against attacks from Protestants. In an unusually ecumenical spirit for the time, Fr. Gallitzen wrote:

“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.”

Unfortunately, Fr. Gallitzen’s land purchases and buildings for his community at Loretto were financed against his inheritance. When his father died, Russian law forbade a Catholic priest to inherit his share of his father’s estate. Fr. Gallitzen’s representatives in Russia were not very aggressive in addressing these wrongs, and his sister’s marriage to a financially troubled and irresponsible husband resulted in much of the money Fr. Gallitzen was supposed to receive never actually making it to America. Fr. Gallitzen’s financial woes even stood in the way of his becoming a bishop, for when he was initially considered first for the archdiocese of Philadelphia and then for the see of Bardstown, KY, Bishop Carroll lacked confidence in his financial acumen to recommend him. Fr. Gallitzen was able to pay off all of his debts by the end of his life, and he was eventually appointed Vicar-General for Western Pennsylvania.

Fr. Gallitzen served the people of the Allegheny Mountains in western Pennsylvania for forty-one years. When he first arrived in what became Loretto there were barely a dozen Catholics in the area. At his death, and largely due to his efforts, there were 10,000. After a brief illness, he died shortly after Easter on May 6, 1840. He is buried near the Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel in Loretto.

Fr. Demetrius Augustine Gallitzen is remembered fondly in western Pennsylvania, where he made his mark, and is honored as “The Apostle of the Alleghenies.” The town of Gallitzen is named for him, as is a local park. In 1990, the bishop of Altoona-Johnstown created the Prince Gallitzen Cross, which is awarded annually to a Catholic of the diocese who reflects the evangelizing spirit of the faithful priest. On June 6, 2005, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints formally opened the cause for canonization of Prince Demetrius Augustine Gallitzen and bestowed upon him the title Servant of God.

O God, light of the faithful and shepherd of souls, who sent Servant of God Demetrius Gallitzin to serve God’s people in the Allegheny Mountains, feeding your sheep by his words and forming them by his example, pour out your Spirit to sow seeds of truth in people’s hearts and to awaken in them obedience to the faith.

May the Gospel continue to be preached and the Sacraments bring power and grace to the faithful. By the example of this man of faith, Demetrius Gallitzin, may your people advance in the path of salvation and love.

Confident of your faithfulness to us, we humbly ask you, our God, to grant us the favor of (name your intention).

May Christ’s saving work continue to the end of the ages, and may we feel a more urgent call to work for the salvation of every creature. We pray this, as did your priest Demetrius Gallitzin, through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Kindly send information about granted favors to:

The Cause for Servant of God Demetrius Gallitzin
Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown
927 South Logan Boulevard
Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania 16648

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demetrius_Augustine_Gallitzin

http://www.demetriusgallitzin.org/

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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