The Defense of a Priest

January 29, 2021
Source: Priory Livonia
Servant of God Fr. Demetrius Gallitzin

The Society of St. Pius X exists, as its statutes indicate, for “the priesthood and all that pertains to it.” Today we see, sadly, the priesthood often attacked and maligned. True, abuses carried out by priests certainly must be reported, condemned and corrected, but in the wake of this can easily come an attitude which is derogatory towards “the priesthood and all that pertains to it.” This is obviously wrong, since it was Jesus Christ that established the Eternal Priesthood in Himself, and gave us the sacrament that perpetuates his Priesthood throughout time and space. The story that follows gives an example of the proper attitude for a Catholic—an attitude that prefers to defend rather than to attack, an attitude that strives to protect and preserve the gift of the priesthood given to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the families at St. Anne’s, the Bushings, have a relative from long ago who put up a bold defense of a Catholic priest. His name was John Weakland and this is his story.

Father Demetrius Gallitzin was a priest who emigrated from Russia to America as a young man. He was a prince from the nobility of his country and had renounced his riches in order to work for the salvation of souls in the countryside of western Pennsylvania. In the very beginning of the 19th century there was a farmer by the name of John Weakland in his parish. Weakland was a large, powerful man, who was known to keep to himself and his farm. But one day, however, he felt obliged to make a public stand for his parish priest. The following words tell the story of his heroism as related by Leo McMullen.

It was probably in 1807, when John was 49 years of age, that the famous defense of Father Gallitzin occurred. The residence of Fr. Gallitzin and the church were then isolated from the rest of the community; and a band of ruffians had confronted him at his house, whence he fled to the church, followed by the mob. A party of agitators seized upon Gallitzin and taunted him with insults. Above all they were bent on forcing certain concessions from him, by which he would have renounced his rights and his position of leadership. When he refused, they prepared to treat him with violence; and there he would have been subject to a veritable siege, if John Weakland had not just then chanced along.

John was the tallest and strongest man with a radius of one hundred miles. It was known of him that once as he was alone in the forest, he met and fought a furious bear for hours, having as his only weapon a limb of a tree hastily snatched up. On another occasion, he caught a wolf, gagged it, and brought it home for the amusement of his children. At the same time he was a man of few words, of a mild and gentle nature who “could not hurt a fly,” as the saying goes. He was a great admirer of Gallitzin, and was of the number that had come with him into the mountains from Maryland. When he saw what was afoot, he decided that here he should make an exception to his accustomed rule of life, in accordance with which he minded his own business. He therefore looked about him for a limb or its equivalent. This time he found an oaken fence rail which fitted his hand neatly. With it, he calmly advanced upon the mob, which, awed and frightened, started to retreat, thinking that without further ceremony he would strike loose at them. But this he did not, but gave a speech, a longer one than they were accustomed to hear from him. He spoke approximately as follows: “I have fought with bears and other animals, it is true, but to date I have never, thank God, done harm to a human being; but now it looks as though something else might happen. Go home therefore, for if there is any more monkey business, or if anyone acts improperly about the house of God, or dares to lay hands on the anointed of the Lord, let him beware! (and here he lifted up the fence rail). As true as I live, I’ll crush his skull for him!” This put a decisive end to the trouble.

God was to give a special sign of approval to John Weakland. When his first grave was opened in order to move his body to another location, his body was found to have fallen to dust, but his right arm and hand—with which he defended Father Gallitzin—were found intact and incorrupt.

O Lord, grant us many holy priests—and grant us the grace to defend your priesthood!