Many, many years ago, when I was a very small child, I used to love the television program “Queen for a Day!” As my brother and I were glued to the TV, my mother would bemoan over the fact that she would have loved to be the ladies she saw on the show. On one Mother’s Day, my mom got her wish! My brother and I, after pestering my dad to help us out, made plans to make the entire weekend a memory for my mom! I began with breakfast in bed with our best dinnerware and my mom’s favorite tea set. After that, my dad, with two small children in tow, began to do all the weekend chores that my mom usually performed. This included several loads of laundry folded and sorted, a complete scouring of the kitchen, and waxing of the wood floors in the living and dining rooms. In the evening, my dad made reservations at my mom’s favorite restaurant.
When our meal came, and I excitedly asked if she enjoyed her day and if she felt she was a queen, she began to cry. I didn’t understand her tears. I asked, “Ma, why are you crying?” Patting my hand, she said, “Dear. Yes, it was nice. I thank you for all your hard work. But, I want you to know that I absolutely love doing my Saturday chores! I love cooking and cleaning for dad and for you and your brother. Giving to you in the ordinary things of life makes me feel as if I was a queen! All I want from you and your brother is a little bit of appreciation, and love every now and then.” At the time, I had NO clue what she meant.
I could not help thinking of this story as I begin an article about the Servant of God Demetrius A. Gallitzin. Demetrius, born on December 22, 1770, was the son of Prince Dimitri Gallitzin, Russian ambassador to the Netherlands and his mother, Prussian Countess Adelheid Amalie von Schmeatttau. At the age of two, Demetrius was appointed office of the guard by Empress Catherine the Great as a sign of special favor to his father.
At the age of 17, Demetrius was formally received into the Roman Catholic Church and took the name of Augustine as his Confirmation name, even though his father was bitterly disappointed about his conversion from Orthodoxy. Soon after, he set out to complete his education by travel, as was the custom of young aristocracy at the time. Since the French Revolution made a European tour unsafe, his parents thought two years traveling through America, the West Indies and other foreign lands would be beneficial.
Since travel as a Russian prince was costly, he decided to do so under the assumed name of Augustine Schmeattau, then Augustine Schmet and finally Augustine Smith.
While in America, Demetrius was interested in the needs of the Church in the United States. To the dismay of his father, he decided to join the priesthood and forgo his inheritance. In 1792, Gallitzin entered the newly established Seminary in Baltimore and was ordained three years later by Archbishop Carroll. He was the first student of the seminary to receive all his education and his ordination in America. After ordination, he was sent to Conewago, where he served at the Conewago Chapel until 1799. The missionary territory for which he was responsible extended into Chambersburg, sections of Maryland, Virginia as well as West Virginia.1 From here, he founded the Catholic parish at Loretto, Pa., and in the 41 years he labored there, he grew in historic and religious stature and became known as the Apostle of the Alleghenies. His Coat of Arms is currently displayed in the church in Loretto. 2
Even though his is an intriguing story, while I was doing my research, I came across a book written by Father Gallitzin that was his defense of the Catholic Church. Apparently, during his missionary activities, he came across several outspoken Christian leaders who were adamant in their opposition to Catholicism. In response to this attack, he wrote: “AFTER your unprovoked attack upon the whole body of Roman Catholics, it was expected that an apology for the same would have been considered by you as due to them. … As a Christian, and especially as a teacher of the Christian religion, you cannot be ignorant of that great precept of Christian charity which our blessed Savior declares to be the very soul of religion, on which depend the whole law and the prophets, Matt. xxii, 40. Wishing to act under the influence of those principles, I shall, according to the direction of your and my Savior, (Matt. v, 44) return you good for evil, and pray God to bless you whilst you are persecuting and calumniating us.”3
Doesn’t it give you pause that, in the midst of public ridicule, Father Gallitzin’s words were not one of anger but of love? I could not help think that parts of this paragraph would be, at least in today’s world, a great tweet! In fact, it could possibly be called a counter-cultural tweet! A tweet of what not only Christian words should resemble, but also what a Catholic lifestyle should emulate.
This is a true Princely and Queenly life – not just for a day – but for a lifetime. I guess that’s why we can call Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin a true Servant of God.
2Centential History of the Diocese of Harrisburg 1868-1968, pg. 13.
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness