“Our Lady of the Alleghenies” Shrine, located between the Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel and the Prince Gallitzin Chapel House, symbolizes the heroic missionary devotion that Father Gallitzin extended to Our Blessed Mother and his Catholic colony here in the Loretto wilderness. It also serves as an expression of his special love for Our Lady. He had named his village in her honor; and it was his life’s dream that Loretto would someday become a center of devotion and pilgrimage to the Mother of God.
And so it was in August, 1948, at Mount Aloysius Jr. College in Cresson, PA, during the centenary celebration of the Sisters of Mercy arrival in Loretto, that Father Owen Gallagher first referenced, in a poem, the Blessed Mother under the title, “Our Lady of the Alleghenies”. It had been earlier suggested by then Bishop Richard T. Guilfoyle that a most fitting shrine to Our Blessed Mother be established here in Father Gallitzin’s village of Loretto.
One year later, August, 1949, during the 150th anniversary of the founding of St. Michael Parish, ground was broken on this site for a three-figured bronze statuary group of heroic proportions. Sister Mary Benedicta San Antonia, R.S.M., then director of the Art Department of Mount Aloysius, designed and sculpted the clay models which would be the centerpiece of the shrine of Our Lady of the Alleghenies.
The shrine was solemnly blessed on the feast of the Birth of Mary, September 8, 1951, which also marked the Golden Jubilee of the creation of the Altoona Diocese in 1901. Set on a one-half acre plot donated to the diocese by the Sisters of Mercy, Our Lady of the Alleghenies was named the official Marian Shrine of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.
This shrine is situated on the site of the original St. Aloysius Academy and Convent that was opened in 1853 as a day school for girls. The academy relocated to Cresson in 1897 and the Loretto facility become a children’s home until December 8, 1904, when it was destroyed by fire.
In addition to the bronze sculpture, Sister M. Fides Glass, a Sister of Charity of Seton Hill, Greensburg, did an original oil painting of our Lady of the Alleghenies in 1950.
Sister Mary Fides Glass was a native of Loretto and author of two books on the life of Father Demetrius Gallitzin. The original painting, which now hangs in McAuley Hall at Mt. Aloysius.
In this rendering of Our Lady of the Alleghenies, Mary holds the Prince Gallitzin Chapel House in her hands, keeping guard over the mountains of central Pennsylvania, and the Catholic community which Father Gallitzin so faithfully served.