Saint Joseph's Mission Church, Symbol of a Proud Heritage

St. Joseph's Mission Church, Hart's Sleeping Place, is the oldest church building in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Blessed on October 10, 1830 by the Prince-Priest Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, this colonial era church consists of essentially of a log structure now hidden by white siding on its exterior. St. Joseph's Mission Church, the fruit of the zealous labor of catholic pioneers, was the center of Catholicity in Northern Cambria County from 1830 until 1850, when St. Benedict Church in Carrolltown was dedicated. In 1850 St. Joseph's becomes a Mission Church. From 1860 until 1903, mass is only celebrated on the annual Feast of St. Joseph's on March 19th. In 1903, the Church is opened for Sunday Mass for the people of the new town of St. Benedict. In 1963, St. Joseph's is closed. Now maintained by the diocese, St. Joseph's Mission Church is one of Cambria County's notable historic landmarks. Standing alone in the countryside and surrounded by the graves of early settlers, St. Joseph's Mission Church bears silent testimony of the work of Fr. Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin and Fr. Peter Henry Lemke, OSB, St. Joseph's first appointed pastor. This little church is tangible evidence of the Catholic heritage of several generations of people who fostered the Catholic Faith, which Fr. Gallitzin and Fr. Lemke so courageously preached. If the voices of the dead could be heard, they would tell of the hardships the Catholics in the early 19th Century met and overcame to establish this church. They would tell of the first meeting of Prince Gallitzin and Fr. Lemke on the Munster-Loretto Road. They would tell of the defense of Prince Gallitzin by John Weakland. They would tell of the arrival of the Benedictines in America and their work here.

Fr. Peter Henry Lemke

Fr. Lemke was born in Germany in 1795, he became a convert to the Catholic Faith and was ordained a priest in Europe in 1826. Fr. Lemke arrived in America in 1834, meeting Fr. Gallitzin in October of that year on the Loretto-Munster Road. This famous meeting is depicted on a stained glass window at St. Joseph's Mission Church.

The following was taken from : THE





By The Rev., Modestus Wirtner, O. S. B.

Father Lemke did not give the details of his itinerary, but the next place of which he wrote was Munster.

"I arrived at last in safety at Munster, a little village laid out by Irish people on a tableland of the Allegheny mountains, only three miles from Gallitzin's residence. The stage stopped at the house of a certain Peter Collins, a genuine Irishman, who kept the post office and the hotel. I entered and asked for my supper and a night's lodging. As I was called from the office, where a great many English-speaking people were gathered togeather, into a side room, the hostess as she noticed me making the sign of the Cross, and saying grace before eating, asked me - N. B. in English for the people were Irish - "Are you then a Catholic?" "Yes", "And possibly even a priest." "Yes!". "Now I really thought so when I saw you, and you inquired for Father Gallitzin." "Are you Catholics here about?" I asked. "Why certainly; in the entire neighborhood and for many miles around here there is not an un-Catholic bone to be found." And hereupon she ran into the other room. Her husband with cap in hand, which before he had not touched, hunted up a pair of slippers and insisted on taking care of my wet feet which he looked after with a certain ceremony that reminded me of the washing of feet during the early Christian times.

"Meanwhile also others came in, among them some Germans and I was like one at home among friends and acquaintances. When on the following morning after breakfast I spoke of paying, I almost gave offence. Instead of accepting the proffered pay thay had a saddled horse in front of the door for me in the custody of a boy who was to show me the way to Loretto through the woods, seven miles distant. We had not gone more than a mile or two into the woods when my guide called, "Here comes the priest," and before me I saw an old Reverend gentleman with snow-white hair, wide-brimmed, badly-worn hat, and a coat of homespun twill, but noble in bearing and mien - it was Gallitzin. I rode up and asked: "Are you really the pastor of Loretto?" "Yes, I am he." "Prince Gallitzin?" "At your service, I am that very exalted personage," saying this he laughed heartily. "You may perhaps wonder," he said, when I had presented to him a letter from the Bishop of Philadelphia, "at my singular retinue. But how can it be helped? We have not as yet, as you see, roads fit for wagons; we should be either fast or upset every moment. I cannot any longer ride horseback, having injured myself by a fall, and it is also coming hard for me to walk; besides I have all the requirements for Mass to take with me. I am now on my way to a place where I have had for some years a station. You can now go on quietly to Loretto, and make yourself comfortable there. I shall be home this evening; or, if you like better, you can come with me, perhaps it may be of interest to you." I chose to accompany him, and after riding some miles through the woods we reached a genuine Pennsylvania farm house.

Father Lemke had a sketch made of this meeting, and an engraving from it for his biography of Gallitzin written some years after Gallitzin's death. He aimed to have the different persons and objects in the picture made as much like the originals as possible, and as there is no portrait of Prince Gallitzin extant, it is likely that this picture gives the best representation of him that we have. In a letter written, to his friend Judge Johnston, from Asbach, on September 16, 1859. he says of it: "Here is a nice picture for you. It will adorn a biography of Gallitzin which I am going to get printed and represents my first meeting with him between Munster and Loretto in 1834. Do you recognize the old gentleman in his well known locomotion! The boy with the shillalah pointing with his finger and saying, 'there is the priest coming, is Tom Collins, but him you will hardly recognize for his is only in half profile, nor (not Augustine Hott, his usual driver, but John McConnell) the driver, who shows no profile at all, neither one way nor the other, having occasion to adjust something at the gears. The very dogs are not forgotten. Ask Tom whether he remembers them. I do, and remember how the plebian cur of Munster was worried by the clerical mastiff'."

Father Lemke continues: "Here lived Joshua Parrish, one of the first settlers of that country, and the ancestor of a numerous posterity. The Catholics of the neighborhood, men, women and children, were already assembled in great numbers around the house, in which an altar was set up, its principal materials having been taken from the sled; Gallitzin then sat down in one corner of the house to hear confessions, and I in another corner, attended to a few Germans. The whole affair appeared very strange to me, but it was extremely touching to see the simple peasant home, with all its house furniture, and the great fireplace, in which there was roasting and boiling going on at the same time, changed into a church; while the people with their prayer books and their reverential manners, stood or knelt under the low projecting roof or under the trees, going in or out, just as their turn came for confession. After Mass, at which Father Gallitzin preached, and when a few children had been baptized, the altar was taken away, and the dinner table set in its place In a word it was so pleasant and friendly that involuntarily the love-feasts of the first christians came to my mind. In the afternoon we went slowly on our way, Gallitzin in his sled and I on horseback, arriving at nightfall at Loretto."

John Weakland

According to SOME FACTS ABOUT JOHN WEAKLAND by McMullen. John Weakland was born in April 1758, it was probably 1807, when John was 49 years of age, that the famous defense of Fr. Gallitzin occurred. I have attached articles that have been printed about John Weakland below.