As we continue our study of the History of Catholicism in America, today we look at three pioneers of Catholicism in western Pennsylvania, Fathers Denys Baron, Demetrius Gallitzin, and Boniface Wimmer.
Denys Baron, was a Recollect Father, and was the chaplain for the French forces at Fort Duquesne, modern day Pittsburgh, in 1754. He celebrated the first Mass in that city in April 1754. On July 1 of that same year, Fr. Baron celebrated Mass for French troops near Brownsville in Fayette County. The French force was on its way to challenge a group of Virginia militia led by George Washington; the dispute was about control of the area surrounding Pittsburgh. The ensuing Battle of Fort Necessity (near Uniontown) on July 3-4, 1754, in which Washington had to surrender to the French, sparked the French and Indian War.
Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin was born at The Hague, on December 22, 1770. His family was one of the oldest, wealthiest, and most illustrious families of Russia. The Russian prince arrived in Baltimore in 1792 and entered St. Mary's seminary a short time later. Prince Gallitzin was the first person to complete all of his seminary work in the United States and was ordained on March 18, 1795. He first served in Baltimore, southern Pennsylvania, and northern Maryland. In 1799, Father Gallitzin was given permission by Bishop Carroll to establish a permanent residence in and to begin to serve the people in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. It is believed that Father Gallitzin ministered to Catholics as far southwest as Greene and Washington counties and north to the New York state line. He is thought to have established the church in Sugar Creek in 1806. The refurbished log church at that site is the oldest church west of the Alleghenies. The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown is promoting the cause for the canonization of Servant of God Demetrius Gallitzin.
Born on January 14, 1809, in Bavaria, he was baptized Sebastian Wimmer. While he believed he had a vocation to the priesthood, he also studied law. He was ordained on August 1, 1831. Fr. Sebastian Wimmer entered the Benedictine Monastery at Metten, Bavaria to discern a vocation to the Benedictine monastic life. He was given the name Boniface. He took solemn vows on December 29, 1833, and lived his vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life. Fr. Boniface believed he had a calling to be a missionary to the German people who left for a better life in the United States. Father Boniface Wimmer was granted permission to serve in a missionary capacity in the United States in 1846. In September, 1846, Father Boniface was asked by the first Bishop of Pittsburgh, Michael O'Connor to take the pastoral responsibility of a small parish named Saint Vincent, about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Fr. Wimmer arrived at Saint Vincent on October 19, 1846, where he found a small school house, a barn, a log cabin, and a small brick church. Father Boniface was installed as the pastor of Saint Vincent on October 24, 1846. From these humble beginnings he founded the first Benedictine Monastery in the United States. Five years later there were 100 professed monks living at Saint Vincent. By 1855, there were 200 professed monks and Pope Pius IX elevated Saint Vincent to the status of Abbey, and Father Boniface was made Abbot, and in 1883 was granted the title, Archabbot. Archabbot Boniface Wimmer died on December 8, 1887. At the time of his death, there were ten Benedictine Abbeys in the United States founded by him.
Speaking of Saint Vincent, the summer home of our Pittsburgh Steelers, I believe that this weekend the Steelers will cruise to their eighth Super Bowl appearance by defeating the New York Jets 31-13.
Lastly, as many of us head to Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life on Monday, let us offer prayers this weekend that our country will respect all life from natural conception to natural death.