Gallitzin, Demetrius Augustine

views updated


Pioneer missionary; b. The Hague, Holland, Dec. 22, 1770; d. Loretto, Pa., May 6, 1840. He was the son of the Russian Prince Demetrius, a scientist, and Countess Amalia Gallitzin, daughter of a Prussian field marshal. Although his mother had been baptized a Roman Catholic, she had lost interest in her religion before the birth of her son. Soon after his birth, the parents separated and Demetrius was raised in the Orthodox Church of his father. His mother, after a critical illness in 1786, returned to the Roman Catholic Church, and young Demetrius followed her the next year. He completed his education and served for a time as aide-de-camp to the Austrian general Von Lillien. Instead of making the customary grand tour of Europe, Gallitzin was sent by his mother on a trip to the U.S.

His arrival in Baltimore, Md., on Oct. 28, 1792, was a turning point in his life. He presented himself to Abp. John carroll, asking to be admitted to the seminary. On March 18, 1795, he was ordainedthe first priest to receive all his training and orders in the U.S. He first served the mission stations of Port Tobacco, Md., and Conewago, Pa., and the German community in Baltimore. However, like many of his contemporaries, he desired to go to the West. On a trip to the Allegheny Mountains in 1796, he visited Capt. Michael McGuire's settlement in Cambria County, Pa. The captain offered him a tract of land if he would settle in the area, but it was several years before Gallitzin obtained the permission from his bishop. He built a church at what came to be known as Loretto, Pa., and celebrated Mass there on Christmas Day, 1799. Wishing to create an ideal Catholic frontier settlement, Gallitzin encouraged migration by purchasing land and offering it to settlers at a low cost. His early years at Loretto were stormy, for his masterful personality and strict moral standards antagonized the local settlers. In the beginning he supported his activities with money received from his father during the latter's lifetime. When he inherited little of his father's estate, he sought funds by a public appeal for aid in 1827.

Gallitzin declined several episcopal appointments in order to direct his colonization project. He eventually became vicar-general for Western Pennsylvania. Although his "ideal" community subsequently disappeared, the strong Catholicism he established in Cambria County is reflected in that area's present heavily Catholic population.

Bibliography: p. h. lemcke, Life and Work of Prince Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, tr. j. c. plumpe (New York 1940). g. murphy, Gallitzin's Letters: A Collection of Polemical Works (Loretto, Pa. 1940). d. sargent, Mitri, or the Story of Prince Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, 17701840 (New York 1945).

[t. v. hartzel]