St. John Neumann, Pray For Us

St. John Neumann is especially known for his work establishing the Catholic school system in Philadelphia.

‘St. John Neumann’
‘St. John Neumann’ (photo: Wirestock Creators)

St. John Neumann (1811-60) was born in Bohemia (which today is the Czech Republic). He studied theology in Prague, but desiring to be a missionary, headed to New York before his ordination. He arrived in New York with one dollar in his pocket and a single suit to clothes to wear.

He was ordained a priest three weeks later by the bishop of New York, and was sent to do missionary work among German-speaking immigrants who worked in the lumber industry near Niagara Falls. Father Neumann spoke six languages, including German, and could easily communicate with the immigrants.

Father was short — not even tall enough to reach the stirrups of his horse. He was quiet and not known for his charming personality. He was, however, totally devoted to God and to spreading the message of Jesus Christ. Meeting the challenges of cold winters and hot summers, he taught the faith, provided the sacraments and cared for the sick in the vast area around Niagara Falls. He also taught others to be catechists.

Wanting to live in a religious community that corresponded better to his missionary vocation, he joined the Redemptorists in 1842. He also became an American citizen.

In 1852, he became bishop of Philadelphia. He met many difficulties as bishop. Many people in Philadelphia were Irish, and they did not want a German bishop. He later won over many by learning the Gaelic language spoken by the Irish immigrants.

He also had to deal with the Know Nothings, an anti-Catholic political party, who wanted to eliminate the presence of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia. The Know Nothings destroyed churches, convents and Catholic schools. It grieved Bishop Neumann to see so much hatred of Catholics, and he wrote the Pope asking to be replaced, thinking someone else would be more effective as bishop. The Pope refused his request.

St. John Neumann is especially known for his work establishing the Catholic school system in Philadelphia. When he arrived, there were only two Catholic schools. In eight years, there were 100. He brought many religious in to teach in the schools. He also wrote books about Catholicism to instruct the faithful.

He was always very active, regularly visiting parishes and mission churches. The stress of his job got to him at age 48 in 1860; he died of a stroke while out running an errand. He was canonized in 1977. His remains can be found at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Philadelphia. His feast day is Jan. 5.