Father Gallitzin was a pioneer priest

Monday, July 15, 2019 - Updated: 2:27 pm

QUESTION: We just visited a state park named after a “Prince Gallitzin.” Friends of ours said that the “prince” was a priest and should be a saint! What do we know about this man?


ANSWER: Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin was much loved by the people of western Pennsylvania, and the naming of a state park in his memory is just one example of that tribute. There is a Pennsylvania town named after him as well.

Gallitzin was born in Holland on Dec. 22, 1770. His father was a Russian prince and his mother was a countess, the daughter of a Prussian military commander. While his mother was baptized a Roman Catholic, Demetrius was raised within the Russian Orthodox Church. After the separation of his parents, Demetrius’ interest in Roman Catholicism increased.

As a young man, he accompanied his mother on a tour of the United States, arriving in Baltimore in 1792. It was at the end of the tour that Demetrius asked to enter the seminary and prepare for ordination to the priesthood. Given the permission of Archbishop John Carroll, three years later, on March 18, 1795, Demetrius Gallitzin was ordained a priest. He was actually the first priest ordained in the United States who had received all of his priestly formation in this country.

He was then assigned to various Catholic communities in Maryland and eastern Pennsylvania. On a journey to Cambria County, Father Gallitzin met Capt. Michael McGuire. The captain offered Father Gallitzin a tract of land if he would settle in the region and give pastoral care to the growing number of Catholics who were settling there.

It was some years before Father Gallitzin was able to obtain the needed permission of his bishop to accept the land and begin a pastorate in the Cambria County. Once there, however, he wasted no time in beginning to build a church in the village of Loretto. The building progressed sufficiently to enable Gallitzin to celebrate Mass there on Christmas Day, 1799.

Gallitzin utilized support from his family to purchase additional land and thereby encourage the settlement of other Catholics in the region by offering the land at low cost. When his family was no longer able to offer financial assistance, Gallitzin began making public appeals for funds. Some anti-Catholic feeling existed in the region, and Gallitzin faced some strong opposition in his ministry.

Father Gallitzin led not only the Catholics of his parish, but later became the vicar general of all of western Pennsylvania. Some say that he declined several opportunities to become a bishop so that he could remain with the community he helped to found. He died in his beloved Loretto on May 6, 1840. Many parishes in this part of Pennsylvania owe their origin to the faith that was planted and nourished by this pioneer priest.

A visit to the parish church of Loretto will offer an opportunity to visit Gallitzin’s burial place. There is also a museum there that has many interesting items from the life of Father Gallitzin and the history of the area. There are many people praying that Father Gallitzin will be canonized a saint. For many who benefit from his labors, he is already remembered as a very holy priest.


Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.

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