Today we celebrate the feast of Saint John Neumann, an amazing priest and bishop, who had a tremendous impact on the American Church. He was the first man and the first American bishop to be canonized.
Born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1811, Saint John grew up with 4 sisters and 1 brother. A good student as a boy, he considered the priesthood and ultimately studied theology at Charles Ferdinand University in Prague in 1833. Unfortunately, when he was ready to be ordained, the bishop was sick, and so the ordination was postponed. Now, you’d think that it would just be rescheduled, right? Not so. Apparently, there were too many priests in the diocese at that time, so John was never ordained. (Imagine having that problem!)
Undeterred, St. John decided to go to America and request ordination from the local bishop so that he could work with immigrant Catholics. He walked to France and then boarded a boat for the U.S., arriving in NYC in 1836.
At that time, Bishop Dubois had only 36 priests to serve the 200,000 Catholics in New York and New Jersey, so Saint John was ordained not too long after his arrival. Bishop Dubois sent him to Buffalo where Fr. John chose to serve in the difficult rural areas of the countryside. He lived a simple life, sustaining himself frequently on bread and water, sleeping little, and doing a lot of walking from farm to farm. Because he spoke 12 languages, he was able to effectively minister to the many ethnic groups in the farming community of his parish.
In 1840, Saint John joined the Redemptorist order and was the first priest to take those vows in the U.S. In 1844 he became the rector of St. Philomena church in Pittsburgh and was later appointed as the superior of the Redemptorist order. In 1852, he was appointed bishop of Philadelphia.
By the time of his death in 1860, he had built 50 churches, started the building of a cathedral, opened almost 100 schools and the number of students in his diocesan schools grew 1700% from 500 to 9,000. He wrote quite a bit in both English and German including two Catechisms. And to answer the question before you ask, from what I can find, it does not appear that it was the Baltimore Catechism which was issued by the Third Plenary Council in 1884, 24 years after his death.
We in the American Church owe a great deal to Saint John Neumann. It’s amazing how much one person can do when they faithfully follow the will of God. Let us be counted among them!
St. John Neumann, pray for us! Anne
Since every man of whatever race is endowed with the dignity of a person, he has an inalienable right to an education corresponding to his proper destiny and suited to his native talents, his cultural background, and his ancestral heritage. At the same time, this education should pave the way to brotherly association with other peoples, so that genuine unity and peace on earth may be promoted. For a true education aims at the formation of the human person with respect to the good of those societies of which, as a man, he is a member, and in whose responsibilities, as an adult, he will share. – Saint John Neumann