Father Gallitzin and the Cliptown Exorcism

Introduction: The following account is from Daniel Sargent’s book, Mitri, pages 113-116. A few explanations are in order to help the reader understand. Mitri is Demitrius Gallitzin, the Russian prince-priest who became “Apostle of the Alleghenies.” He was also known as Augustine Schmidt (or Smith), a name he assumed to hide his noble birth. The Father Pellentz mentioned was the Vicar General of the Baltimore Diocese under Bishop Carroll. Priests in those days — especially priests from English-speaking countries — were often called “Mister” or “Reverend Mister” instead of Father, hence the otherwise confusing mention of the priest, “Mr. Dennis Cahill .” Three names mentioned, Diderot , Hemsterhuis , and Fuerstenberg , refer respectively to a Frenchman, a Dutchman, and a German who, at different times, exerted strong influence on Mitri’s mother, and therefore on Mitri himself. Lastly, “IHS ” is short for the Holy Name of Jesus, being a Latin adaptation of the first three letters of Our Lord’s name in Greek.

There are at least two other places on the Internet where one can read about these phenomena:

— Editor

After Mitri had written this letter, Father Pellentz paid him a compliment that showed he was satisfied with this spirit of perseverance of his, as well as impressed by his intelligence. He chose him to ride some sixty miles southwest into Virginia over the first ridge of the Virginia Alleghenies into the Shenandoah Valley on an errand that required sober discernment. It was to investigate a case of what seemed to be diabolical possession, that had taken place in the vicinity of a town called Martinsburg.

For some six years the priests of Conewago had been hearing of very strange occurrences in this region. A German farmer named Livingston, a Lutheran, had been persecuted in a way that suggested extraordinarily clever human trickery or something more than human. It was not merely that Livingston’s barns had been burned down or that unaccountable hammerings had been heard in his house. Mr. Livingston and his family — very quiet, unimaginative German folk — had found it impossible to keep a sheet or piece of cloth whole in their house without having it torn to shreds. Because of this, the region had come to be called Cliptown. So much was certain.

But then a Catholic priest had become involved in the story; a priest well known to Conewago and, indeed, under the jurisdiction of Father Pellentz, Mr. Dennis Cahill, who had recently built a chapel at Hagerstown, Maryland, twenty miles north of Martinsburg, across the Potomac. Mr. Cahill was a practical priest with more than due store of business sense. He was such a man as Mitri’s father could never have called over-exalted. He was such a man as could build a church when there was no money to build it with, simply by hard work and thrift. Mr. Cahill had been invited by this Lutheran Livingston to Cliptown to exorcise the house. Mr. Cahill did not relish making a useless detour, and he considered the whole affair Lutheran nonsense, a carry-over of an old-fashioned Lutheran obsession with witches. But he made the detour, and, though he did not exorcise the house — which required a rather complicated rite which he had never performed — he was prevailed upon to sprinkle it with holy water. He did it in haste, and his mind was distraught as he did it, though not with thought of witches. On his detour, to his great annoyance, a purse of money had slipped from his pocket. It was lost. He didn’t like to lose money.

As Mr. Cahill hastened out of the house thinking of his lost pennies, he found his purse on the doorstep. This was odd, and Mr. Cahill had reported it as odd.

It was odd, too, that after his sprinkling of the house, there were for a year or so no disturbances in it. Mr. Cahill did not know what to think.

Recently, however, the disturbances had begun again, and Mr. Dennis Cahill had again been summoned. Father Pellentz thought that a man with a more trained mind, like the book-learned Mr. Augustine Schmidt, should be sent to investigate the phenomena, in addition to Mr. Cahill. He had sent Mitri.

Mitri had indeed had an education that fitted him to be skeptical of miracles. Miracles had been the butt of Diderot’s laughter. Hemsterhuis was impatient with all miracles save those mentioned beautifully in Greek mythology. Fuerstenberg was a sound Catholic, and was sure that there had been and could be miracles, but he did not expect to meet any, and he left the ready acceptance of them to the minds of his peasants. Mitri had more expectation of seeing God’s Providence everywhere than of coming upon supernatural interposition. Mitri rode his sixty miles utterly incredulous. He entered the Livingston house with the thought: “I, a modern man, will tell you what is going on.”

Then over his head there broke the rumble as of a hundred Conestoga wagons. Mitri was frankly terrified. He was even, for the moment, helpless, and had to leave the initiative to Mr. Cahill, who, again having turned up on the scene, consented this time to exorcise the house, and brought immediate calm.

Mitri stayed on for three months in the region, living with a sound, sober Irish Catholic farmer, neighbor to the Livingstons, named Richard McSherry. This farmer recounted all that he knew.

Mr. Livingston had been a good, honest, industrious neighbor, a Lutheran, but with no fanaticism. One day he had taken into his house in human kindliness a wandering stranger who was shelterless and apparently near death. The man had begged that a Catholic priest be sent for, as he was sure that he was nearing his end. Mr. Livingston was ready to tend the dying man, but he had a Lutheran aversion to priests, and he had no idea how a priest could be found. The man had died without the last rites.

Soon afterwards the afflictions had begun.

But how did it happen that Mr. Cahill had been sent for? Was it Mr. McSherry who had arranged that?

Mr. McSherry explained that he had wished to stay out of the affair. He had known that Protestant ministers had been summoned. One had entered the house with a volume of tracts in his hands to make the Livingstons better Protestants. Within his very hands the tracts had been torn to pieces. He had fled.

Livingston had thereupon dreamed a dream in which he looked at a mountaintop on which stood a man with outlandish clothes. A voice — and it was the same voice as that of the dying beggar — spoke to him in the dream, saying: “This is the man who will bring you relief.” He had described the clothing of the man in the dream to Richard McSherry, and McSherry had recognized the clothing described as being precisely what a Catholic priest wore at the altar. At this McSherry had begun to be interested.

He told Livingston that he had dreamed of a Catholic priest.

Then McSherry had heard that Mr. Cahill was passing the night at Shepherdstown, and had persuaded Livingston to accompany him to the farmhouse in Shepherdstown, where Mr. Cahill was lodging. They had entered the farmhouse where Mr. Cahill was offering Mass. When Livingston saw Mr. Cahill, he had cried out as if forgetting where he was: “There is the man.”

So that was how Mr. Cahill had come into the story.

Mitri continued his questioning of Livingston: had he ever again, since the sprinkling of his house with holy water, heard the “Voice,” as he called it? Livingston affirmed that he had heard it frequently and not only when he was asleep. It taught him many things, which Mitri recognized as perfectly accurate Catholic doctrines concerning Purgatory, and often it bade him go, even at night, to the bedside of men who were dying.

Mitri cross-questioned a dozen neighbors, none of them Catholics. They did not know about the voices and dreams, but they were agog about the clippings and tearings. One Presbyterian lady recounted with indignation how her best hat had been torn to pieces while on her very head, while she was making a call of friendly inquisitiveness.

He asked to be shown the torn clothing and sheets. It looked as if they had been burned on the edges. It might be trickery, but it was strange that one piece of cloth had clearly marked on it I.H.S. He packed the sample in his saddle-bags.

Before Mitri had left, Livingston and his wife and a half-dozen others of this region had become Catholics. But it was not he who received them into the Church; it was the prosaic Mr. Cahill, as part of his day’s work.

Mitri departed from Cliptown in time to be back at Conewago for Christmas. He brought with him some of the shreds of clothing and a lengthy report of all his investigations. He presented the evidence to Father Pellentz.

This experience of Mitri’s at Cliptown engraved a deep impression on his mind. Some who recognize how deep the impression was have been ready to give ear to stories, the authenticity of which we cannot be sure, such as that he received at Cliptown communications through Livingston from the “Voice” which disclosed to him some of his future sufferings and consoled him with merciful counsel as to how to bear them. Such stories may be true, but in order to appreciate how deep the experience was, there is no need of them. The phenomena may have enlightened him concerning the future, but, more important, it gave him a sense of how little he knew, and estranged his mind from the habit of his youth of thinking that he could see all, taste all, touch all, and comprehend all.