Father Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin
the old ones were not yet old. Bishop Carroll was discouraged at times. But deep humility and true apostolic zeal were there, and upon that foundation much could be - and was - built.
Early in his missionary career, in 1796, a fateful sick-call to a dying Protestant woman in the Alleghenies would give Mitri a glimpse of his future apostolate, indeed, of his life work. The woman, a Mrs. Burgoon, lived on what was known as McGuire's Settlement, named after an officer in the Revolutionary army, Captain Michael McGuire. The entrepreneuring captain began what amounted to a small Catholic colony in what is now Cambria County, Pennsylvania. The settlement started on a 1,200-acre parcel McGuire purchased near the summit of the Alleghenies in 1788.
Mrs. Burgoon died a Catholic.
Eventually, Mitri would have Bishop Carroll's blessing to begin an apostolate among the dozen Catholics of that settlement. It would be his home base for missionary excursions to the Catholics scattered about the region, many of whom had rarely seen a priest before. (Some baptisms, for instance, were of twelve-year olds from Catholic families, so rare was a priest in those parts.) Father Gallitzin was ideal for this undertaking, as he would be able to apply his own personal monies to building a church, house, and other necessities for the new mission. But he did more that that. He wanted to build a flourishing town in the woods. He funded construction of saw-mills, grist-mills, and tanneries. He began a general store and established other industries, all for the benefit of his flock, which grew astronomically. From a dozen Catholics at the beginning of his ministry, McGuire's settlement blossomed into the town of Loretto - Gallitzin's name of choice - wherein dwelt 10,000 Christian souls at the death of its priestly patriarch.
As with any good work, Father Gallitzin's project in the backwoods of Pennsylvania was blessed with the sign of the Cross. Lay trusteeism, elsewhere rampant in the Church in this country, was not a problem. After all, he owned the small church he had built for the people. His were other problems: The uncouth folk among whom he worked could be ungrateful at times. Some accused him of great mischief when he tried to turn pious young ladies into schoolteachers for his Catholic school. True, Mitri was not yet the soul of discretion and prudence (lessons he would have to learn the very hard way), but the accusations of impurity leveled at him were worthy only of contempt.
When that episode blew over, another, worse one took its place. Under the influence of a provocative Irish wanderer who enjoyed the sport of setting factions against each other, many of his people turned on Mitri with vitriol. The controversy turned around politics: Mitri was an apolitical Federalist, but his people were mostly Republicans, and the Jefferson administration served to politicize the heretofore politically inactive and still politically ignorant common man. One thing led to another, and, along with a whole host of other crimes, Mitri was accused of harboring monarchist and anti-American leanings. In this case, the provocateur himself eventually confessed his guilt openly in the church of Loretto.
More harrowing perhaps, because of much longer duration, was his debt situation. Being Prince Gallitzin, he was entitled to a princely fortune when his father died. And his generous mother sent him money from time to time. On the strength of this credit, be borrowed large sums to fund the charitable enterprises of his mission. The sums were enormous for an American backwoods entrepreneur, but trifling for a man of the wealth he was to have - or so he thought.
As a Catholic, and especially as a cleric, he found himself cut off from his inheritance by Russian law. For many long years he worked under the delusion that his sister, Mimi, would send him his portion of the family fortune once she took possession of its entirety. Her marriage to an aristocratic gambling addict rang the death knell of that hope. When the pauper-prince was most hard-pressed, financial help came from Europe, especially in the person of one of his childhood playmates, now William I, King of the Netherlands and Duke of Luxembourg. King William's largesse was far from sufficient, however, and poor Father Gallitzin had to go around begging.
He tried to get money from wealthy Catholics in America - a rare breed, to put it mildly. What little he got from them had to be offset by widow's mites, lots of them. He got what he needed, every penny, from poor Irish laborers who were shoveling and picking through the Alleghenies. (Pennsylvania was then trying to compete with New York in connecting the Eastern Seaboard to western trade routes.) The Irish, who had given him problems before, came through - literally, in spades.In the midst of traveling great expanses on horseback to confess, communicate, and anoint his ...
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An online journal edited by the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Saint Benedict Center, New Hampshire.
Keywords: Alleghenies, Baron Franz von Fuerstenberg, Bishop John Carroll, Cambria County, Demetrius Gallitzin, Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Hemsterhuis, Michael McGuire, Pennsylvania, Russia, Saint Mary's Seminary
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