Saint Anthony Chapel is home to the largest collection of publicly venerable Christian relics – 5,000 in total – in the world outside of the Vatican.
The chapel and its relics were the personal property of Suitbert Godfrey Mollinger (1828-1892), a Belgian-born noble/physician-turned-priest who gained an international reputation as a source of hope and healing. While practicing medicine in his twenties, Mollinger discerned a vocational calling to the priesthood. As a seminarian, he left Europe to serve as a missionary in the United States, where he would later be ordained and eventually settle in what is today known as the Troy Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Due to his personal financial standing – and, undoubtedly, the Holy Spirit – Fr. Mollinger was in a position to ransom a large number of relics that were both suddenly and unfortunately available on the open market as a result of political and cultural upheavals throughout Europe during the mid-to-late 1800s. To house the relics, Fr. Mollinger single-handedly financed the chapel’s construction, which was built in two phases: the original chapel, also known as the “The Shrine of the Saints” because it houses nearly the entirety of Fr. Mollinger’s relic collection, was dedicated in 1883, while the chapel’s annex, also known as “The Way of the Cross" because it houses the chapel’s life-size wooden statues of the Stations of the Cross, was dedicated in 1892; Fr. Mollinger ensured that dedication of each phase would occur on June 13, the feast day of the chapel’s patron, St. Anthony of Padua.
In addition to his duty as pastor of Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish, which is located across the street from the chapel, Fr. Mollinger leveraged his training as a medical doctor to tend to the physical needs of his congregation, as well as anyone else who sought his attention. He fashioned a clinic out of a room of his rectory, in which he would see and treat over 100 patients on a given day; he refused to accept payment for his services. After tending to the patient’s physical needs, Fr. Mollinger would pray over the patient, touching his or her body with a relic from his collection. Additionally, his healing services, which were typically held on the Feast of St. Anthony, drew tens of thousands of pilgrims from across North America and beyond.
It is believed that during his time on Troy Hill, Fr. Mollinger treated over 325,000 patients and wrote over 80,000 prescriptions. Many of his patients claimed the be the recipients of miraculous healings; in fact, over 300 canes, crutches, and other walking apparatuses were found in and around the chapel, presumably left there by people who, upon being seen by Fr. Mollinger, no longer had need for them.
Fr. Mollinger fell gravely ill on June 13, 1892, the day of the chapel’s rededication, and died two days later in his rectory.
The chapel, its founder, and its treasures serve as tangible proof of the truly amazing things that God can do through even just one of us.