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Saint John Neumann

Saint John Neumann
  • Century: 19th Century
  • Patronage: He was the First United States Bishop and Confessor to be Canonized
  • Feast Day: January 5th

St. John Neumann was born in Bohemia, in the Austrian Empire, which is not the Czech Republic.  He entered the seminary in 1831, and two years later he transferred to the University of Prague.  There he studied theology, with an interest in astronomy and botany.  His overall goal was to be ordained a Priest, but his Bishop decided there would be no more ordinations due to too many Priests in his Diocese.  

John traveled to the United States with the hope of being ordained.  Bishop John Dubois, S.S., received him into the Diocese of New York, which at the time covered a very large territory, including but not limited to, the entire states of New York and New Jersey, received him.  This is the same Bishop that founded Mt. St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and also helped St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to found her school and congregation of Sisters there.  John was ordained in June 1836, at what is now the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.  He was sent to Niagara Falls area, where they had no established parish Churches.  He traveled the area visiting the sick, taught catechism, and trained teachers to take over when he left.  

In 1840 with the permission of Bishop Dubois, he applied to join the Redemptorist Fathers and was accepted.  He entered at St. Philomena’s in Pittsburgh, PA.  He was their first candidate in the United States.  He took vows in 1842, and became a member.  He also at that time, became a naturalized citizen of the United States in Baltimore.  In February 1852 the Holy See appointed him Bishop of Philadelphia.  He was the first Bishop in the United States to organize a Diocesan school system and served a large and expanding Irish immigrant population of Catholics, followed by Italians and other Europeans.  During his administration, he founded more than 200 Parochial Schools in his diocese.  His construction campaign extended to Parish Churches as well.  He established and built so many new Parish Churches within that Diocese that they were completed almost at the rate of one a month.  He built many Churches as far away as Ohio, and a museum is established in Peru, Ohio, where an old log cabin he lived in, still exists today.  

John actively invited Religious Institutes to establish new houses within his 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 the Orphanages.  He also intervened to save the Oblate Sisters of Providence.  

He was well versed in languages, and ministered to newcomers in his native German, but he also spoke Italian fluently and ministered personally to a growing congregation in his private chapel.  He was notorious for his frugality, and kept and wore only one pair of boots throughout his entire residency in the United States.  When given the gift of new Vestments, he would often use them to fit the newest Ordained Priest in his diocese.  

His efforts to expand the Catholic Church were not without opposition.  The anti-Catholic political party set fire to Convents and schools.  Discouraged, he wrote to Rome asking to be replaced as Bishop, but Pope Pius IX insisted he continue.  He traveled to Rome in 1854, and participated in the See of 139 Bishops and 53 Cardinals when Pope Pius IX solemnly defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  

While doing errands on January 5, 1860, St. John Neumann collapsed and died on a city street, due to a massive stroke.  He was only 48 years old, and was well loved by many.  He was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XV in 1921; Beatified by Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council in October 1963; and Canonized in June 1977 by the same Pope.  After his canonization, the National Shrine of St. John Neumann was constructed at the Parish of St. Peter the Apostle in Philadelphia.  His remains rest under the altar of the Shrine within a glass reliquary.  Many visitors visit and pray in front of his body entombed in glass.  

Practical Take Away

St. John Neumann was from the Czech Republic and desired to be ordained a Priest.  His Bishop was not allowing any more Ordinations due to a high number of Priests.  He moved to the United States and was ordained in New York City.  He was a Priest that was noted for building hundreds of Parochial Schools and Parish Churches, as far reaching as Buffalo, NY; Northern Ohio; and Pennsylvanian, more so Philadelphia.  He was appointed as Bishop of Philadelphia from 1852 – 1860.  He was the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia and the first United States Bishop to be canonized.  He was famous for founding the first Catholic Diocesan School system in the United States.