1811 - 1860
This American saint was born in Bohemia in 1811. He was looking forward to being ordained in 1835 when the bishop decided there would be no more ordinations. It is difficult for us to imagine now, but Bohemia was overstocked with priests. John wrote to bishops all over Europe but the story was the same everywhere no one wanted any more priests. John was sure he was called to be a priest but all the doors to follow that vocation seemed to close in his face.
But John didn't give up. He had learned English by working in a factory with English-speaking workers so he wrote to the bishops in America. Finally, the bishop in New York agreed to ordain him. In order to follow God's call to the priesthood John would have to leave his home forever and travel across the ocean to a new and rugged land.
In New York, John was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. John's parish in western New York stretched from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. His church had no steeple or floor but that didn't matter because John spent most of his time traveling from village to village, climbing mountains to visit the sick, staying in garrets and taverns to teach, and celebrating the Mass at kitchen tables.
Because of the work and the isolation of his parish, John longed for community and so joined the Redemptorists, a congregation of priests and brothers dedicated to helping the poor and most abandoned.
John was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. As bishop, he was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system. A founder of Catholic education in this country, he increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to 100.
John never lost his love and concern for the people -- something that may have bothered the elite of Philadelphia. On one visit to a rural parish, the parish priest picked him up in a manure wagon. Seated on a plank stretched over the wagon's contents, John joked, "Have you ever seen such an entourage for a bishop!"
The ability to learn languages that had brought him to America led him to learn Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch so he could hear confessions in at least six languages. When Irish immigration started, he learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, "Isn't it grand that we have an Irish bishop!"
Once on a visit to Germany, he came back to the house he was staying in soaked by rain. When his host suggested he change his shoes, John remarked, "The only way I could change my shoes is by putting the left one on the right foot and the right one on the left foot. This is the only pair I own."
John died on January 5, 1860 at the age of 48.
In His Footsteps:
John was a Redemptorist priest. To learn more about the Redemptorists visit the Web site for Redemptorist Publications in England, www.redempt.org.
Saint John Neumann, you helped organize Catholic education in the United States. Please watch over all Catholic schools and help them be a model of Christianity in their actions as well as their words. Amen
John Nepomucene Neumann, C.Ss.R. (Czech: Jan Nepomucký Neumann, German: Johannes Nepomuk Neumann; 28 March 1811–5 January 1860), was a native of Bohemia who emigrated to the United States where he became a Redemptorist Catholic priest and the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia(1852–60). He is the first American bishop (and thus far the only male citizen) to be canonized. While Bishop of Philadelphia, Neumann founded the first Catholic diocesan school system in the United States.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Priesthood
- 3 Bishop of Philadelphia
- 4 Sainthood
- 5 Jubilee year
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Neumann was born in Prachatitz, in the Kingdom of Bohemia, then part of the Austrian Empire, now in the Czech Republic. He attended school in České Budějovice before entering the seminary there in 1831. Two years later he transferred to the Charles University in Prague, where he studied theology, though he was also interested in astronomy and botany. His goal was to be ordained to the priesthood, and he applied for this after completing his studies in 1835. His bishop, however, had decided that there would be no more ordinations for the time being, as Bohemia had a high number of priests.
Neumann traveled to the United States with the hope of being ordained. He was received by Bishop John Dubois, S.S., into the Diocese of New York, which at that time covered a large territory, covering all of the State of New York and half of New Jersey.
Neumann was ordained in June 1836 at what is now the Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. After his ordination, Bishop Dubois assigned Neumann to work with recent German immigrants in theNiagara Falls area, where there were no established parish churches. He traveled the countryside and visited the sick, taught catechism, and trained teachers to take over when he left. His first assignment was the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Williamsville, New York. From there he took up full-time residence in North Bush (now part of Tonawanda) as the first pastor of St. John the Baptist Church (1836–40). It was from here that he carried out his missionary works.
In 1840, with the permission of Dubois, he applied to join the Redemptorist Fathers, was accepted, and entered their novitiate at St. Philomena's Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was their first candidate in the New World. He took his religious vows as a member of the congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, in January 1842. After six years of difficult but fruitful work, he was appointed the Provincial Superior for the United States. Neumann became naturalized as a citizen of the United States in Baltimore on 10 February 1848.
Bishop of Philadelphia
On 5 February 1852 Neumann was appointed the Bishop of Philadelphia by the Holy See and wasconsecrated on 28 March by Bishop Dubois. He was the first bishop in the country to organize adiocesan school system and served a large and expanding Irish immigrant population of Catholics, to be followed by Italians and other Catholic Europeans. During his administration, he increased the number of parochial schools in his diocese from one to two hundred. His construction campaign extended toparish churches as well. He established and built so many new parish churches within the diocese that they were completed almost at the rate of one a month.
Neumann actively invited religious institutes to establish new houses within the diocese. In 1855, he supported the foundation of a congregation of religious sisters in the city, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. He brought the School Sisters of Notre Dame from Germany to assist in religious instruction and staffing an orphanage. He also intervened to save the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a congregation for African-American women, from dissolution.
Neumann's facility with languages endeared him to the many new immigrant communities in the city. As well as ministering to newcomers in his native German, he also spoke Italian fluently and ministered personally to a growing congregation of Italian-speakers in his private chapel. He eventually established the first Italian national parishes in the country for them.
Neumann was notorious for his frugality. He kept and wore only one pair of boots throughout his residence in the United States. When given the gift of a new set of vestments, he would often use them to fit the newest ordained priest in the diocese.
Neumann's efforts to expand the Catholic Church throughout his diocese was not without opposition. The Know Nothings, an anti-Catholic political party representing descendants of earlier immigrants to North America, was at the height of its activities. They set fire to convents and schools. Discouraged, Neumann wrote to Rome asking to be replaced as bishop, but Pope Pius IX insisted that he continue. In 1854, Neumann traveled to Rome and was present at St. Peter's Basilica on December 8, along with 53cardinals, 139 other bishops, and thousands of priests and laity, when Pope Pius IX solemnly defined, ex cathedra, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
While doing errands on 5 January 1860, Neumann collapsed and died on a city street, due to a stroke. He was 48 years old. Bishop James Frederick Wood, who had been appointed his coadjutor with right of succession, took office as Bishop of Philadelphia.
The first step toward proclamation of Neumann as a saint was his being declared venerable by Pope Benedict XV in 1921. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council on 13 October 1963, and was canonized by that same pope on 19 June 1977. His feast days are 5 January, the date of his death, on the Roman calendar for the Church in the United States of America, and 5 March in the Czech Republic.
After his canonization, the National Shrine of Saint John Neumann was constructed at the Parish of St. Peter the Apostle in Philadelphia. The remains of St. John Neumann rest under the altar of the shrine within a glass-walled reliquary.
In 1980, Our Lady of the Angels College, founded by the congregation of Franciscan Sisters he had founded and located within the archdiocese, was renamed Neumann College. It was granted university status by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2009.
In 2011, the Redemptorist Fathers celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of St. John Neumann. The Neumann Year lasted until June 23, 2012.
- St. John Neumann Catholic Community. (web page) Oblates of St. Fr Sales, ed. Accessed 12 Aug 2009.
- Neumann University website