LORETTO, CAMBRIA COUNTY --- The Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel was founded in 1799 by Demetrius Gallitzin. Born into Russian royalty, Gallitzin moved to America and studied under Bishop Carroll in Baltimore. He was first sent to Loreto on a communion call. He quickly decided it would be a perfect place to establish the catholic faith.
"He felt this would be a nice place for them to come and settle and have farms and industries. He had his first mass here Christmas eve 1799," Msgr. Timothy Swope said.
That first mass was held in a log cabin where the current chapel house now stands. It’s also the site of the cemetery, where Gallitzin was buried following his death in 1840. Before construction started on the current building in 1900, members of the congregation unearthed Gallitzin and moved him to the site where he now lies.
"People thought a lot of him. Before the fourth church was built, they moved him from the cemetery up to here to have them close by themselves," Swope said.
The current church is the fourth building. It was made to resemble a cathedral. The Vatican originally thought it would serve as headquarters for the region's diocese, but that honor was given to Altoona with construction of the railroads. Funded entirely by Loreto native Charles Schwab, the building cost $150,000. It features stations of the cross hand made in Italy, German stained glass windows created prior to world war one, and a pipe organ donated by Andrew Carnegie. The organ is the only part of the church not paid for by the Schwab family. In the mid 1990's Pope John Paul the second acknowledged the life of Demetrius Gallitzin, and gave saint Michael’s the basilica status.
"Rome recognized the work that this dedicated priest did and what he gave up and the hardships he endured, allowed this church to be titled a basilica," Swope said.
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