Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Healing Priest in Late 1800s, Thousands Sought Him out at Troy Hill Church

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Healing Priest in Late 1800s, Thousands Sought Him out at Troy Hill Church

Article excerpt

He was born to a wealthy Belgian family, studied medicine in Europe, became a priest, and rode on horseback in northwestern Pennsylvania to say Mass and treat people's ailments.

But it wasn't until the Rev. Suitbert Godfrey Mollinger arrived in Pittsburgh at the end of the Civil War and became priest at Most Holy Name of Jesus parish in Troy Hill that his reputation blossomed, said Kate Lukaszewicz, lead educator at the Heinz History Center.

During his more than 20 years here, she said in a talk at the history center Saturday, the "healing priest" became so well known that 20,000 people would make the pilgrimage to his church for the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua each June, seeking cures for everything from blindness and deafness to crippling ailments and heart problems.

A biographical dictionary page that Ms. Lukaszewicz displayed from the 1890s showed that the item for Father Mollinger was twice as large as the descriptions for both Queen Victoria and composer John Philip Sousa.

Yet he is little known today, despite his reputation as a faith healer and his ability to amass the second largest collection of sacred relics outside the Vatican, at St. Anthony's Chapel in Troy Hill.

Pictures of the German-speaking priest from the late 1800s show a man with a voluminous gray beard and pale blue eyes.

And while some priests in the region were none too happy with his faith-healing services, he was enormously popular with Catholics from around the nation.

An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people a week would make their way to his parish, Ms. Lukaszewicz said, and the trolley line to the base of Troy Hill was so crowded with invalids that it was known as "The Ambulance."

Once people on crutches and canes made it to that stop, she said, they would then struggle up the boardwalk and through the mud to the Troy Hill parish, just to see Father Mollinger.

When they arrived, he would treat them with either the practice of faith healing -- in which he would tell them to trust God to make them well but would also order them to carry out an act of penance - - or by administering medicines that he concocted himself in a nearby apothecary. …

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