05 January 2010

Saint John Neumann

5 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church in the United States celebrates the memorial of Saint John Neumann, another saint from these shores. Saint John Neumann was a Redemptorist missionary to the United States who served as the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia from 1852-1860.

Saint John Neumann was born in Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) on 28 March 1811. He entered the Seminary in 1831 and two years later transferred to the University of Prague to study theology, intending to be ordained as a priest. However, in 1835 the bishop of Bohemia decided there would be no more priestly ordinations as Bohemia already had a large number of priests (a problem that is difficult to imagine today). Undeterred, John wrote other European bishops asking for ordination, but received similar responses that dioceses already had too many priests. So, inspired by the story of Bishop Frederic Barga in the United States, and already able to speak English (amongst seven other languages) John Neumann requested to be ordain in America.

Arriving in America 1836, Saint John was ordained to the priesthood the same year. His first assignment in the Diocese of New York was working with German migrants in the Niagra Falls area. Father John's diocesan work involved a great deal of travel from village to village, and he spent a good deal of time alone. After four years of diocesan work, and seeking a community, Father Neumann applied to the Redemptorists and was accepted. He entered the novitiate of the order in Pittsburgh and took vows in 1842, becoming the first Redemptorist in the New World. After six years of difficult, but fruitful work with the order, Saint John was appointed as provincial superior of the United States.

Saint John Neumann was naturalized as a United States citizen on 10  February 1848, having lived and ministered in the United States for 12 years.

In 1852 Saint John was consecrated as the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia and embarked on an ambitious campaign to organize and build a Catholic school system in his new diocese. During his tenure as bishop, the Philadelphia Catholic schools grew from one to 100, and the number of new parishes grew so quickly that, for a time, nearly one new parish was opening each month. Bishop Neuman also invited religious communities to become active in the diocese. Bishop Neumann founded a congregation of third order Franciscan sisters and was instrumental in bringing the School Sisters of Notre Dame to the United States to serve in schools and orphanages. However, Bishop Neumann's expansion of Catholicism in Philadelphia did not go unnoticed.

The Know Nothings, an anti-Catholic political party, was at the height of its activities, burning convents and schools, during the bishopric of Saint John. In fact, Bishop Neumann got so discouraged by the acts of the Know Nothings that he wrote Rome and asked to be replaced as bishop. However, he received a response from Pope Pius IX instructing him to continue in his efforts.

In 1854, Bishop Neumann traveled to Rome and was present in Saint Peter's Basilica on 8 December when Pope Pius IX solemnly declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Saint John Neumann collapsed and died from stroke on 5 January 1860, on a city street in Philadelphia, while running errands. Only 48 years old at the time of his death, he was immediately replaced as bishop by his coadjutor with right of succession, James Frederick Wood.

Bishop Neumann was beatified by Servant of God Pope Paul VI on 13 October 1963 during the Second Vatican Council. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI on 19 June 1977.


O Saint John Neumann,
your ardent desire of bringing all souls to Christ
impelled you to leave home and country;
teach us to live worthily in the spirit of our Baptism
which makes us all children of the one Heavenly Father
and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ,
the first-born of the family of God.

Obtain for us that complete dedication
in the service of the needy, the weak, the afflicted
and the abandoned which so characterized your life.
Help us to walk perseveringly in the difficult and,
at times, painful paths of duty,
strengthened by the Body and Blood of our Redeemer
and under the watchful protection of Mary our Mother.

May death still find us on the sure road
to our Father's House with the light
of living Faith in our hearts.


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