Our Patron Saint
Passio Christi Conforta Me - Passion of Christ Strengthen Me
St. John Neumann was the fourth bishop of Philadelphia, and held that position from 1852 to 1860. He was the first male canonized saint from the United States. St. John lived from 1811 to 1860. The St. John Neumann feast day is January fifth.
Known for a lifetime of pastoral work, especially among poor German immigrants, Bishop John Neumann was the first American man to be named saint.
John Nepomucene Neumann was born on March 28, 1811 in Bohemia, the Czech portion of the present Czechoslovakia. He graduated from a nearby college in Bohemia and then applied to the seminary. John distinguished himself not only in his theological studies, but also in the natural sciences. Besides mastering Latin, Greek and Hebrew, he learned to speak fluently at least eight modern languages, including various Slavic dialects.
During his seminary days, John had read with great interest the quarterly reports of the Missionary Society of St. Leopold containing accounts of the pioneering work being done in the United States. On the morning of February 8, 1836, he left his native home and made the trip across Europe on foot. Several months later, he set sail for New York aboard a 210-foot, three-masted ship loaded to capacity with emigrants. Six weeks later, the ship entered the harbor of New York.
A few days after arriving in New York, John Neumann sought out and met the bishop, John Dubois. Bishop Dubois had only 36 priests to care for 200,000 Catholics living in all of New York State and half of lower New Jersey. In June of 1836, the bishop ordained John Neumann as a sub-deacon, a deacon, and as a priest, all within on week’s time.
Father John Neumann devoted himself to the pastoral care of all the outlying places in the parish of Buffalo for four years. From his headquarters near Buffalo, he made frequent journeys on foot in all kinds of weather to points ten or twenty miles distant, visiting the settlers on their scattered farms.
Father Neumann could not long keep up the strenuous work he was doing. He began to suffer from fevers that lasted as long as three months. At Easter time, 1840, he had a complete breakdown; and after recovering to some extent, he made up his mind to join the Redemptorists. After being accepted into the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, John was directed to go to Pittsburgh.
Father Neumann was the first novice of the Redemptorists in the United States and, in 1847, he became the head of the American Redemptorists. He also wrote several German Language Catechisms and a German Bible history.
In 1852, he was nominated for the position of Bishop of Philadelphia and he accepted the appointment only because Pope Pius IX commanded him to do so. The Diocese of Philadelphia was at this time the largest in the country, comprising eastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey, and all of Delaware.
Bishop Neumann was the first in the United States to introduce the Forty Hours Devotion in his diocese. From the beginning, he promoted the establishment of parochial schools. There were only two such schools in 1852, but by 1860 they numbered nearly 100. Through his work with the schools, he helped the Notre Dame Sisters of Munich to become firmly established in the United States.
Though Bishop Neumann had suffered from frequent illnesses, his sudden death, at the age of 48, was wholly unexpected. On January 8, 1860, he went out in the afternoon to attend to some business matters and was walking back when he suffered an apoplectic stroke.
The cause of his beautification was begun in 1886. Ten years later, he received the title of "Venerable." In February, 1963, Pope John XXIII issued the proclamation for his beautification, but the ceremony was delayed by the death of Pope John and Pope Paul VI beautified him on October 13th. His canonization followed in June of 1977. His feast day is January 5th.