While Saint Vincent founder Boniface Wimmer eventually settled in Latrobe, where he found the fields and farmland to be more conducive to the community he wanted to establish, his first stop on his mission to America was a little log building called Hart's Sleeping Place, near Carrolltown, Cambria County. The church there, Saint Joseph's Mission Church, is the oldest existing church in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Father Peter Henry Lemke, who was pastor at the time (and who later became a Benedictine), played a pivotal role in Boniface Wimmer's coming to America. The church was blessed in 1830 by Father Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin. Father Demetrius, born a son of a Russian prince and a German countess, was known as apostle of the Alleghenies. (He is now known as Servant of God Demetrius Gallitzin, as a step in the canonization process.)
The mission church, still active for special services, is cared for by a group of local residents who have had a deep interest in and often a family tie to the parish. Ken and Linda Morchesky of Carrolltown have been managing the historic church for 23 years, usually opening it on weekends for guests to pray and visit the historic exhibit room full of photos and other memoriabilia from 9 a.m. till dusk. (It is closed during inclement weather).
Although the building is now preserved with vinyl siding, Linda Morchesky pointed out a small window in the siding through which visitors can view the old logs underneath. In the cemetery are many historic gravestones, one in memory of John Weakland. He defended Prince Gallitzin from an angry mob of anti-Catholics, and tradition holds that when Weakland's body was transferred to Saint Joseph's Cemetery, his right arm, which wielded a fence rail in defense of Prince Gallitzin, was preserved incorrupt, a sign of sanctity. It is said that then Gallitzin prophesied that one day one of Weakland's descendants would become a priest and offer Mass at the church. That prophesy came true in 1917 when Father Rembert Weakland, O.S.B. offered Mass in the church.
There are a number of pictorial stained glass windows in the church, one in particular telling the story of Boniface Wimmer and Father Peter Henry Lemke meeting at the old log church, with an older aerial view of Saint Vincent Archabbey in another panel.
Each October, Bishop Joseph Adamec celebrates a special Mass at the mission church in honor of its anniversary. Persons wishing to visit the parish during the Wimmer anniversary year can follow these directions as if they were travelling from Saint Vincent. From Latrobe, take Route 981 north through downtown Latrobe and follow to New Alexandria for almost ten miles. Take Route 22 east for 36.8 miles to the Carrolltown exit, just before Ebensburg. From there, take Route 219 west toward Carrolltown/Indiana. Go for 7.5 miles to where the highway intersects with Route 422. Stay on Route 219 and follow it through Carrolltown. Continue through Carrolltown on Route 219, passing Saint Benedict's Parish (100 North Main Street). On the northern edge of the Borough of Carrolltown, take Sunset Road four-tenths of a mile to Tower Road. From there travel a half mile into West Carroll Township and the intersection of Township Road 532. Turn left to Saint Joseph's Mission Church.
By Kim Metzgar