(Posted by guest blogger Dr. Matthew Bunson)
Last month, I promised to talk about a recent journey I made to Pennsylvania. I have the privilege of serving on the Historical Commission investigating the life of Servant of God, the Reverend Prince Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin (1770 – 1840) as part of the Cause of Canonization that was started some years ago by Bishop Joseph Adamec, the Bishop Altoona-Johnstown. I was in town for meetings, and the bishop asked me to give a talk to one of the local Catholic High Schools. The topic was Gallitzin.
For those unfamiliar with his remarkable story…
Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin devoted forty years of his life to establishing the Church in Western Pennsylvania. Born in The Hague, Holland, he was the son of the Russian Prince and was baptized in the Orthodox Church; Empress Catherine the Great of Russia was his godmother. Under the influence of his mother, Demetrius entered the Catholic Church in 1787. While his father expected him to be a diplomat or a soldier, Demetrius had other ideas. He set sail for the United States, reached Baltimore, Maryland, on October 28, 1792 and presented himself to an understandably astonished Bishop John Carroll with the request that he be permitted to enter the seminary.
After studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Prince Gallitzin was ordained a priest on March 18, 1795. He was the first priest to receive all his preparation for the priesthood and orders in the United States. In 1796, he was asked to make an emergency visit to the Allegheny Mountains to deliver the last rites to a Catholic in Capt. Michael McGuire’s settlement in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. The visit proved a significant one, for Father Gallitzin recognized the immense pastoral opportunities and needs in the region and went so far as to buy land there with the long-range objective of forging a true Catholic community in the mountains. After several years of petitioning Bishop Carroll, Father Gallitzin was at last granted permission to serve as pastor in western Pennsylvania. Using thousands of dollars of his own money, Father Gallitzin built a church at what came to be known as Loretto, Pennsylvania and celebrated his first Mass there on Christmas Day, 1799.
For the next forty years, he served with great distinction as pastor over virtually the whole of Western Pennsylvania. Along the way, he lost his princely inheritance, braved blizzards and disease, stared down Protestant critics, and even struggled with his sometime unruly flock in the mountains. Above all, he sacrificed the companionship of those trained and raised in European culture. He spoke multiple languages and knew art, literature, philosophy, and music and thus had little opportunity to enjoy culture and the arts. In the end, he died as he lived, celebrating Mass and spreading the truths of the Catholic faith in a wild land far from his birthplace and family.
The life of Demetrius Gallitzin is intriguing in itself, but it is especially interesting in light of National Vocations Week.
As many have written over the years (myself included), the path to ordination – or the religious life – is not always a straight or even an easy one. Demetrius Gallitzin was hardly a likely candidate to become a missionary in the wilderness of America. He could have stayed in Europe and likely would have become a bishop. Instead, when he heard Christ’s call, he did not try to answer it on his terms.
Which brings me back to the high school in Altoona. I told the students about Gallitzin, but I also reminded them about the adventure that could await them if they, like Gallitzin, give a yes to Christ. We all are called to a vocation, be it the priesthood, religious life, marriage, or single life. The key is accepting that God should be the one doing the driving. When we let that happen, we truly are setting out on an adventure beyond anything we might have imagined.
My blog this month ends with the marvelous words of the new bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Bishop Kevin Rhoades who was installed a few days ago at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on a crisp afternoon in Fort Wayne. Reflecting on being called by Christ, he chose for the Gospel reading at his installation Mark’s account of Christ calling the Apostles (1:14-20):
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” 16 And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zeb'edee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zeb'edee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him.
The Bishop declared in his homily:
During these past few weeks of preparation for this day, my thoughts during prayer have centered on the scene of today's Gospel: fishermen casting and mending their nets along the Sea of Galilee. They were ordinary men, busy with their daily work, but suddenly their lives changed. They met Jesus of Nazareth who said to them: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” The two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew, and James and John, allowed themselves “to be won over by (Jesus’) gaze, his voice, his warm and strong invitation” (Pope Benedict XVI). They left their work, their livelihood, and their families to begin a new life in communion with Christ. Their adventure as fishers of men, as apostles, thus began. They would become intimately involved in our Lord's mission of proclaiming the Gospel of God. The Church would be built on the foundation of these four men and the other apostles whom Jesus called to be fishers of men.
Next month, I will talk about a memorable speech given by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Yours in Christ,