PACAMBRI-L ArchivesArchiver > PACAMBRI > 2001-05 > 0989848829
From: "james miller" <>
Subject: [PaCambri] Troubles in Camelot
Date: Mon, 14 May 2001 14:00:21
following are excerpts from unpublished material that I wrote called
A Romp Through Early Cambria Co. PA. It is comprised of seven chapters
dealing with events in early Cambria. The focus of it is NOT the squabbles
between Gallitzin and his parishioners, but
since these events loom large, some of that is taken into account.
And Gallitzin did not just have the project of establishing peace and
tranquility in the country about Loretto. Domestic peace must have been a
project at times too. In his own home there were usually at least seven
people living. In the three years I can find census records for [1800,
1810, 1830] seven people were living in his home. This must have been the
maximum that his humble abode would hold. Prior to 1832 his residence was
somewhat smaller than the Chapel House that we associate with Gallitzins
residence. Maintaining domestic peace in a less than spacious log cabin
must have been a challenge now and then.
When Fr. Middleton did his survey on Gallitzins Memorandum Book, there were
a number of items that puzzled him. One was the fact that in 1818, when
Elizabeth McConnell got married, Gallitzin gave her not only material to
make a wedding dress, but what might look like a whole dowry. This included
not just cash, but a cow, sheep, hogs, geese, a bed, quilts, and much more.
Elizabeth married Stephen Durbin, son of his one-time driver, Thomas B.
Durbin and Mary McGuire. The clue to this mystery for me appeared one day
when I was visiting a farm where my ancestor, David OHara, [1796-1864] had
lived. This place was east of Munster. A map in Chap. 4 will point it out;
and living there when I visited it was Don McConnell. Don was good to show
me about the place and explain a few things to me. He told me that his
ancestor, Hugh McConnell was one of the orphans raised by Gallitzin. Hugh
acted as driver for Gallitzin at times. I subsequently came to learn that
not only did Gallitzin raise Hugh McConnell, but all of the orphaned
children of Francis and Sarah Shields McConnell: Susan, Sarah, Elizabeth,
Ann, Francis, and Hugh. When Elizabeth married, it must have occurred to
Gallitzin that he should provide for her as a father would.
The McConnells were not the only children that Gallitzin took in. I have no
idea if there is any record of the orphans, and or widows that found their
way to his household. In 1830 there are still seven people living in his
house. Two of these are women between the ages of 30 to 40. There is a
girl in the age range of 10 to 15. There are two males in the range of 20
to 30, and one in the 5 to 10 range. Gallitzin records himself in the 50 to
60 age range; actually he would have been 60 in that year. It was probably
not too long after this that a young motherless David Blair found his way to
the Gallitzin residence. His Father, Obediah Blair, an immigrant from
Scotland and himself the son of a Presbyterian minister, came to the
mountains as a surveyor for the Allegheny Portage Railroad that was being
built in the 1830s. He married Mary Todd and they lived in a log cabin on
Horner Street in Ebensburg. Mary did not live long after their son David
Blair was born. Once Mary passed away, young David was left in Gallitzins
Obediah Blair moved on to Ohio where he was killed by Indians while mapping
disputed territory there.
Having a house full of people no doubt had its advantages for Gallitzin too.
His activities as a preacher caused him to cover quite a bit of territory.
The territory between Loretto and Pittsburgh was then largely wilderness,
and depending upon what priests were available where, his journeys would at
times take him the whole way to the little city at the junction of the
Allegheny and the Monongahela. This would mean that he would be away for
days at a time. And having a house full of people meant that there would be
someone there to take care of the farm animals, little kids, and the
numberless tasks that farm life implies.
When in Pittsburgh he was always welcome to stay at the house of Gen. James
OHara, though OHara was not himself a Catholic. Old stories passed down
in the OHara family in Cambria say that Gen. James and the Cambria County
OHaras were related. But there has never come to light any real evidence
to back this up.
Coming back from Pittsburgh, he would often have to stop at Sportsmans
Hall. Coincidentally the land tract there had been patented to James
OHara. This place now situates just out of Latrobe, but Latrobe was not
there yet in Gallitzins time. Though the place is now a large and
prosperous Benedictine Abbey, it was just a little church named St. Vincent
before the Benedictines arrived in 1846. The place was without a priest for
several long periods of time, and Gallitzin would try to fill in. There
were on two occasions priests at this little church who might be deserving
of some of the vitriolic verbiage that Gallitzin was fond of hurling at the
court house bunch. The scandal that they caused, and the ensuing bad
feeling among the local people was one of the reasons that the place went
without a priest for long periods of time.
And having a house full of people had yet another advantage for Gallitzin.
He could not, or would not abide the presence of another priest in his
house. Even his Bishop was aware of this, and cautioned the Rev. Peter
Henry Lemcke that he should not expect to stay with him. Lemcke arrived on
the frontier in 1834. He commented that Gallitzin had so complicated the
arrangement of his house, that he or no clergyman could live there. Lemcke
did not explain just what he meant by this. But we know from other sources
that Gallitzin kept a full house that would provide a ready excuse to
decline residence to another priest.
I have heard that there is a movement afoot to make Demetrius Gallitzin a
saint. I personally hope that this never happens. I think heroes, folk
heroes, are important, especially for young people growing up. These are
members of our own kind, people we can identify with. Gallitzin does his
best work as a folk hero. For at that level he can be seen as one of our
own kind. When a person is associated with a collection of individuals as
bizarre as the saints of the Catholic Church, it is but one more step to
remove that individual from the human race. It seems that each generation
of clergymen produces at least one individual who turns out yet another
biography of Gallitzin that takes him yet one remove further from the human
And to make Gallitzin a saint would be the final step to remove him from our
It seems that, as Gallitzin got older, he became more, well- singular, for
the lack of a better word. Six years before his death, his own bishop
described him as a queer old man. In the year before his death, he was
visited by a physician from Ebensburg, Dr. Aristide Rodrigue. Rodrigue
wrote a letter to his sister in Philadelphia describing his meeting with
Gallitzin. The letter was dated November 29, 1839. A quote follows:
Revd. Mr. Gallitzin received me well; spoke of our good father whom he knew
very well; thought I would do a good business &c, but he is a most
extraordinary and queer man; for instance, the day I went to see him was a
very cold one. I rode out six miles in that weather [from Ebensburg]. It
was after eleven when I got there; he received me in his bedroom without
fire, and after staying about half an hour let me go home though it was near
dinner time, never asked me to warm myself or take a bite. Of course I was
not offended for I was aware of his eccentricity.
He has a large church, from the outside I would say as large as Trinity &
although you know they have Siberian winters there [in Cambria] yet he will
not allow any fire to be made in it and the poor souls who go to church from
6 to 10 miles in the depth of winter have to sit shivering in the
cold. He is just as singular in everything else.
Some years after Gallitzins death, a reporter from Harpers Monthly showed
up in Loretto .
[vol. XLVIII, June-Nov. 1883 ]
The Harper's article now leaves the narrative about Cresson and the
Mountain House. We are taken a few miles to the northwest. Loretto in the
1880's is visited.
Demetrius Gallitzin is dead some forty years at the time the reporter for
Harper's visits the town he founded. Many of the accounts of the Prince
Priest that have come down to us have been transmitted by church sources.
There is always the question whether some of these accounts have been
retouched just a bit to foster the cause for sainthood for a local
churchman. The account in Harper's that is given here is more valuable than
the churchrelated accounts because they come from a disinterested
observer. To the credit of Gallitzin, he appears in this narrative with no
less rectitude of life.
[p. 338] A few miles from the Mountain House and its
cottages the village of Loretto stands, in a small tract of
farms surrounded by the everwaiting forest, as a humble
monument to Prince Dimitri Galitzin, who came thither as a
priest in 1799. His name, which also survives in the
neighboring town of Gallitzin, is well known; but outside of
his church the story of his selfsacrificing life is not
wellenough remembered. Travelling as a young man in
America for the purpose of enlarging his experience, he
became a convert to Catholicism and entered its ministry.
Prospects of preferment at home were resigned, and for a
time he even forfeited his revenues by this step. But he
entered on his missionary work in the then savage wilderness
of the Alleghany with extraordinary zeal, and a humility
that resented any allusion to his aristocratic birth. He
not only performed the duty of performing services in widely
sundered hamlets, but bought and sold lands as agent to
promote colonization, gave much in charity, and acted as
arbiter in neighbors' disputes. He founded Loretto, which
is a Catholic town, and now contains a convent of the
Sisters of Mercy, St. Aloysius, who conduct a flourishing
school there. There is also a boys' school there carried on
by priests. [These will be recognized as the predecessors of
Mt. Aloysius, now at Cresson and St. Francis, still at
Loretto.] The only representative of commerce in Loretto is
an emporium announced as "The Omnifarious Store  Est. 1837"
The mission priest was a staunch Federalist in
politics, [p. 339] though his people were Republicans, and
he maintained a correspondence with Clay, who was his
friend. He seems to have exercised unusual privileges and
to have been, though quiet and kindly, a trifle autocratic.
Hostile to display in dress, he made his parishioners
conform to a simple standard. Once, when a woman came to
church in a lownecked gown, the father, singing Asperges
and sprinkling the congregation with holy water, dashed a
liberal supply of the liquid over her unprotected bosom,
and passed grimly on.
He remained in charge of the parish nearly half a
century, refusing various bishoprics, and dying as a simple
mission priest in 1840. There remain the lonely tomb, a
big brick church, the old weatherstained barn which served
him for a church, together with a straggling village in the
midst of the silent, austere mountain land. The material
results of that life are not overpowering, but somehow the
spirit of the princepriest can not be got out of the air
of the place.
Demetrius Gallitzin, noble soul that he was, did not seem to be so kindly
disposed toward the Irish. In 1808 he wrote a letter to Bishop Carroll at
Baltimore, which is quoted below:
I sincerely lament and regret my own fate in being no
longer under the immediate jurisdiction of your lordship,
whose paternal affection, prudence and authority have so
often afforded most powerful protection against the
poisonous shafts of slander and persecution, surrounded as I
am by a set of the most corrupted class of Irish, who are as
void of religion as they are of honor, and know of no
happiness but that of intemperance. . . the greater part of
my congregation, and even a good many of the Irish, frequent the
sacraments. . . .
Gallitzin is perhaps a bit too harsh towards the Irish. Although his
story is often remembered and told, what has slipped into the forgotten
pages of history is the tale of how he first came to the mountains. It was
an Irish lady, an O'Hara, who first brought him to the tiny wilderness
hamlet in 1796. In the summer of 1796, a protestant lady named Burgoon
became seriously ill and was convinced she was at the point of death. She
must have heard about the Catholic Church and its rites for the dying from
her Catholic neighbors. She lived a bit out of McGuire's Settlement. One
of her neighbors, Mrs. Luke McGuire [born Margaret O'Hara] was extremely
concerned about her condition. She summoned the courage to make the long
and dangerous trip east to find a priest. Margaret [O'Hara] McGuire and
another neighbor found their way 130 miles east to the village of Conewago.
They found there a young priest just ordained the previous year. He was
known by the name Smith, although his actual name was Gallitzin. He had
avoided using his real name so as not to make allusion to his aristocratic
background. [The story then follows of Gallitzin's first visit to the
mountains of Cambria// by the way, there is an alternative version of this
story, which I may eventually pass along.
//////////////////////////////////////////////// jim miller
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