Theology of the Heart- Life of the Saints- St. John Neumann


Fourth Bishop of Philidelphia, USA


Feast: January 5

The Bishop of Philidelphia was born in Prachatitz, Bohemia, on March 28, 1811, the son of Philip Neumann and Agnes Lebis. He attended school in Budweis and entered the seminary there in 1831. 

Two years later, he went on to the University of Charles Ferdinand in Prague, where he studied theology. When his preparation for the priesthood was completed in 1835, he wanted to be ordained but the Bishop there decided that there would not have any more ordinations there. It is difficult for us today to imagine that Bohemia had too many priests at that time.  John wrote to all the Bishops from all over the world, but everywhere it was the same story; nobody wanted priests at that time.  John was sure of his priestly vocation, but all the doors seemed to be closing for him. 

But John was not deterred.  He learned English working in a factory of English-speaking workers.  In this way, he was able to write to the Bishops of the United States.  But John was not deterred. Finally, the Bishop of New York accepted to ordain him.  In order to respond to the call of God to be a priest, John had to leave behind his family forever and cross the ocean in order to go out to a far distant and challenging land. 

In New York, John was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics.  His parish, in eastern New York, extended from Ontario to Pennsylvania.  His Church had neither bell tower nor paved floor, but this did not matter at all because John spent the majority of his time visiting town after town, climbing mountains, in order to visit the sick, staying in cabins and in taverns in order to teach and celebrate Mass on the kitchen table. 

Due to his work and the distance of the parish, John dreamed of a community.  He entered the Redemptorists, a Congregation of priests and brothers that dedicated themselves to helping the poor and the most abandoned.  He was the first priest that entered the Congregation in America, professing in Baltimore on January 16, 1842. 

From the beginning he was known to be a highly pious person, for his evident sanctity, for his zeal and for his kindness.  His knowledge of six modern languages made him particularly apt for work in the peoples of the United States in the 19th century, who spoke many languages.

After working in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, in 1847 he was named Provincial and Major Superior of the Redemptorists in the United States.  Father Frederick von Held, the superior of the Belgian Province, to which the houses in the United States belonged, said of him; “he is a great man that combines piety with a strong and prudent personality.”  He needed these qualities during the two years in which he carried out this duty, a time in which the American foundation was going through a difficult period of adjustment.  When he left this duty to Father Bernard Hafkenscheid, the Redemptorists of America were better prepared to become an autonomous province, which occurred shortly thereafter in 1850.

Father Neumann was named Bishop of Philadelphia and consecrated in Baltimore on March 2, 1852.  His diocese was very large and was going through a period of considerable development. 

As a bishop, he was the first to organize a diocesan system of Catholic schools.  The founder of Catholic education in the country, the schools of his diocese increased from 2 to 100.  He founded the School Sisters of Saint Francis in order to teach in the schools.  Among the more tan eighty churches that were constructed during his episcopate, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul that he began deserves mention.  Saint John Newman, of small stature, never had a robust health, nut in his short life he was very active.  He found time for considerable literary activities despite his pastoral obligations.  He wrote numerous articles for Catholic magazines and newspapers.  He published two catechisms and, in 1849, a history of the Bible for schools.  He continued these activities to the very end of his life. 

On January 5, 1860, at the age of 48, he fell in the street, in his episcopal city, and died before he was even able to be administered the last Sacraments.  He was beatified by Pope Paul VI on October 13, 1963 and was canonized by the same Pope on June 17, 1977. 




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