By Tony DeGol
Servant of God Demetrius Gallitzin is forever bonded with the faithful of Altoona-Johnstown, and his roots are also linked with three of his equally remarkable contemporaries.
Bishop Mark pointed out the connections during a private Mass he celebrated on December 22 at the Prince Gallitzin Chapel House in Loretto. The day marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Prince-Priest.
It was one of two special Liturgies celebrated at the historic site in recent days as the diocese observed Father Gallitzin’s birthday and also celebrated the rich tradition of Christmas in Loretto.
Besides Father Gallitzin, poet William Wordsworth, explorer William Clark, and composer Ludwig van Beethoven were also born in 1770, Bishop Mark mentioned in his homily.
Like Clark (famous for the Lewis and Clark expedition), Father Gallitzin was an explorer and trailblazer who set his sights on the Allegheny Mountains.
Although he did not compose poetry like Wordsworth, Father Gallitzin had a way with words.
“His homilies and letters inspired ordinary people who had very little education, and he captured the attention and respect of those who were more learned and articulate,” Bishop Mark reminded.
Like Beethoven, Father Gallitzin was also a musician, with his violins among his most cherished possessions.
Although he shared something in common with Wordsworth, Clark, and Beethoven, it was two women of faith who truly inspired Father Gallitzin, the Bishop remarked.
Father Gallitzin’s mother, Amalia, was a devout Catholic who passed her faith on to her son and arranged for him to travel to Baltimore and begin his priestly ministry.
Father Gallitzin was also deeply devoted to the Blessed Mother.
“The Mother of God was always a powerful influence in Father Gallitzin’s life and ministry as a priest,” Bishop Mark said. “He gave this town the name Loretto in honor of the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Loreto. There is a town in Italy with that name with a shrine in her honor.”
As Father Gallitzin was drawn away from Amalia, he was drawn into a deeper relationship with the Blessed Mother, added the Bishop.
“He knew of the story of Jesus being born into the world and being born into the hearts of the people he served in this place,” Bishop Mark stated. “We are all beneficiaries of his missionary spirit.”
Just days after the December 22 celebration of the anniversary of Father Gallitzin’s birth, the Very Reverend John Byrnes, JCL, JV, Rector of the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel celebrated a private Christmas Mass at the Gallitzin Chapel House. The Liturgy was shared with Basilica faithful and others via social media.
During his homily, Father Byrnes recalled the history of the parish dating back 221 years to the first Christmas Midnight Mass celebrated by Father Gallitzin in a small log cabin church. The tradition shines brilliantly every year at the Basilica’s Christmas Midnight Mass.
Joining Father Byrnes at the Chapel House Mass was diocesan seminarian Justin Treon, a descendant of one of the orphans for whom Father Gallitzin cared. Father Byrnes invited prayers for Treon as he continues his vocation journey and encouraged others to answer the call of the Lord.
“Our good people deserve the sacraments, deserve the Word of God preached,” Father Byrnes stressed. “It takes some good, strong, young men. Please consider that God might be calling you to follow in the footsteps of Servant of God Demetrius Gallitzin and be a true missionary to his people here in our Allegheny Mountains.”
[Photo: (Top) The historic Prince Gallitzin Chapel House decorated for Christmas; (Inset) Father Gallitzin.]