top of page

Tearing down the saintly legacy of Prince Gallitzin, one brick at a time

photos by Art Martynuska

… “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

The Russian prince renounced his royal blood and wealth and journeyed to America to enter a seminary and become a Catholic priest in the late 1700s. He became an American missionary and endured poverty and misfortune to carry his solitary message by horseback to people who desperately needed that spirituality. He personally established the foundation of the Roman Catholic church in the Allegheny Mountains of west-central Pennsylvania, slowly building it into what it calls itself now, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

He brought the faith to thousands in those mountains by riding on horseback from one hamlet to another, slowly building up the faith one soul at a time.

Carrying the message by horseback — and building a strong religious community — oh, how easy that is to forget.

Father Gallitzin

Family Roots

As a child, I learned how powerful and successful the herculean efforts of Father Demetrius were. This came first from those closest to me.

My family traces its roots in Lilly and Western Pennsylvania directly to St. Brigid’s Catholic Church, which was established primarily by the Irish but also included Italians and Germans, among others.

My grandmother, Katie Brady, was brought from Ireland to the U.S. as an eight-year-old by her uncle, Father Philip Brady, also an Irish immigrant who was first an assistant at St. Brigid's, and then a pastor in the late 1800s.

Katie was brought to America to experience a better life than that in Ireland. Father Philip enrolled her at Mount Aloysius School, which later became Mount Aloysius College. It was located in Loretto in its early years.

In addition, my great aunt, Mary Rosanna Conrad, became a Sister of St. Joseph’s in the early 1900s and served for more than 60 years. Known as Sister Hilary, she was a sister-in-law of Katie Brady after she married Charlie Conrad, my grandfather.

My brother, Father Jim, was a Catholic priest who served the diocese for 46 years before passing away in 2010.

My father received the Benemerenti Medal which was awarded by Pope Pius XII for outstanding contributions to the Catholic Church at St. Brigid’s in the 1950s.

In short, like so many members of St. Brigid's, we were rooted in the Catholic faith.

Father Brady, my grandmother's uncle-- and our tie to St. Brigid's

Father Gallitzin

Demetrius Gallitzin’s efforts to carry the religious message to thousands of people in literally the frontier days have led people to initiate an effort to push the Catholic Church to consider him for sainthood. That may never happen, but his work in the rugged, brutally cold mountain area can simply be regarded as saintly.

As children, we were taught about the exploits of Father Gallitzin in conveying his belief in the power of God and of the stories of Jesus Christ in the New Testament to the people in our home area of Lilly, Pa., which was eventually served by two Catholic Churches.

St. Brigid’s Church also had a school that, like the others, was built by parishioners who gave their nickels and dimes because they believe in its value. We students were taught by the dedicated nuns of the St. Joseph’s order from Baden, Pa. The school nurtured many people who became strong Catholics — and it led to many vocations.

The simple chapel built by Father Gallitzin -- that has been restored

Now, the disgrace

However, the diocese that traces its roots to Father Gallitzin has embarrassed and disgraced itself by its actions in the 20th and 21st centuries. Nothing has been worse than the grand jury report in 2016 that detailed how the saintly exploits of the Russian prince had been smeared by the sexual abuse of young people and a horrific coverup by those leading this organization. These clergy in the diocese were enabled by criminal behavior by its bishops,

Over many years, hundreds of children have fallen victim to child predators wrapped in the authority and integrity of an honorable faith. As wolves disguised as the shepherds themselves — these men stole the innocence of children by sexually preying upon the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society and of the Catholic faith.

Grand jury report on the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, 2016, Section I

Two bishops, James Hogan and Joseph Adamec, are lambasted in the report for a massive coverup that allowed predators to roam at will in the churches of the diocese. At least 50 of these priests were identified as predators, including some who were monsignors -- and even more frightening — many of the alleged predators taught or served as administrators of schools in the diocese, even of the diocese itself.

After an embarrassing sexual abuse trial of a diocesan priest by the name of Francis Luddy in the late 1980s, the diocese began a death spiral that has resulted in the closing of parishes and the mergers of many others. Quite simply many devout Catholics have been repulsed by the action and inaction of not just this diocese, but of those in the U.S.

The diocese does not have enough priests to serve those in their area who would like to continue in the Catholic faith — though in reality, few, even those raised in the faith — now do so.

Often, when churches close, people no longer continue as Catholics. Prince Gallitzin was a revered and iconic man who brought people in, while the current diocese in which he established the faith in that area of the Alleghenies has driven them away.

Taking down the bricks

The church and parish that served our family is no longer St. Brigid’s. It is now called Our Lady of the Alleghenies after merging with Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church a few decades ago.

After the merger, St. Brigid’s became the parish church and Mount Carmel has served as a chapel — though it may be next on the chopping block.

However, brick by brick, the parish is falling apart due to another DAJ bishop and some members of the parish council who know little to nothing about the legacy of those two parishes -- and who ignore the saintly efforts to attract people to the faith and build churches for them. .

I remember the two buildings that were so callously destroyed in such an un-Christian way over the past few years. The first to be torn down was St. Brigid’s School, which served as the foundational religious base for thousands of students over the years.

The latest, and perhaps as egregious as the first, was the inexplicable demolition of the convent that housed the dedicated nuns for years and then served as a home for those serving the diocese.

The Luddy trial and the sexual abuse degradation started the figurative demolition of the faith in the diocese, and now, a callous and uncaring bishop is allowing — or forcing — local churches to demolish historically and religiously-valuable buildings. Prince Gallitzin built the faith with wood and nails, and the DAJ has been destroying it brick-by-brick.

For instance, it happened when he ordered the former Sacred Heart church in Portage, just about five miles away from Lilly, to be demolished instead of being sold. The truth is that the bishop did not like the fact that one of the buyers was from the Polish National Church, which is not under his dominion.

What Prince Gallitzin could have done with a building like that.

From the figurative destruction to the literal one -- death of the Catholic Church

The convent

Many current members of St. Brigid’s parish council had never been inside of the convent that housed our dedicated teachers. I was fortunate to be one of those who spent a considerable amount of time in it.

The nuns taught me piano lessons once a week for eight years, at which time I then became a church organist. They were wonderful, patient, and kind, and they provided me with the essence of the faith that I practiced in a very satisfying way.

That is not why I am outraged by the demolition of the convent. That is because of the un-Christian symbolism of the move, something that denigrates the very words of Jesus Christ and the efforts of Father Gallitzin to carry that faith to others.

When they demolished the school, the bishop’s flack said that it had not been used for many years and was not structurally safe, even though the council conceded that “the walls and roof were in good shape.” It had not been used as a school since 1970, although the

However, a former member of the parish had offered to buy the building and restore it. The bishop rationalized that he was not comfortable having a private person owning a former church property that close to the church -- as if that was the ostensible reason.

I will not comment on the veracity of that statement.

What is important is that he could not make that argument in the case of the convent. It was in good shape and had served as a home for many nuns until a few years ago. It could have been used in a variety of ways to carry the faith as Prince Gallitzin did. It could have been used to carry the social mission of the church as the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the diocese has done so effectively.

It could have been used to help the poor and downtrodden, as a center where they could find solace and comfort, as Father Gallitzin did to the original settlers of the area.

What Father Gallitzin could have done with a building like that.

This brings me back to the words of Jesus Christ,

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink … I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Matthew: 25

The Catholic Church is dying because it no longer follows those precepts in its parishes.

And on this St. Brigid’s Day, February 1, one that we celebrated every year in school, it is a message that we should never forget.

178 views0 comments


bottom of page