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St. John Neumann

St John Nepomucene Neumann (1811 –1860) was born in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). As a Redemptorist Catholic priest in the United States, he became the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia (1852–60). He is the first American bishop (and thus far the only male citizen) to be canonized. While serving as Bishop of Philadelphia, Neumann founded the first Catholic diocesan school system in the United States.

Early life

Neumann was born in Prachatitz, Bohemia, in the Austrian Empire, which is now part of the Czech Republic. He attended school in Česke Budějovice before entering the seminary there in 1831. Two years later he transferred to the University of Prague, where he studied theology, though he was also interested in astronomy and botany. His goal was to be ordained to the priesthood, and he applied for this after completing his studies in 1835. His bishop, however, had decided that there would be no more ordinations for the time being, as Bohemia had a high number of priests.

Neumann traveled to the United States with the hope of being ordained. He was received by Bishop John Dubois, S.S., into the Diocese of New York, which at that time covered a large territory, including the entire states of New York and New Jersey.


Neumann was ordained in June 1836 at what is now the Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. After his ordination, Bishop Dubois assigned Neumann to work with recent German immigrants in the Niagara Falls area, where there were no established parish churches. He traveled the countryside and visited the sick, taught catechism, and trained teachers to take over when he left. From 1836 until 1840, he served as the founding pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Williamsville, New York.

In 1840, with the permission of Dubois, he applied to join the Redemptorist Fathers, was accepted, and entered their novitiate at St. Philomena's in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was their first candidate in the New World. He took his vows as a member of the Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, in January 1842. After six years of difficult but fruitful work, he was appointed as the Provincial Superior for the United States. Neumann became naturalized as a citizen of the United States in Baltimore on 10 February 1848.

Bishop of Philadelphia

On 5 February 1852 Neumann was appointed as Bishop of Philadelphia by the Holy See and was consecrated on 28 March by Bishop Dubois. He was the first bishop in the country to organize a diocesan school system and served a large and expanding Irish immigrant population of Catholics, to be followed by Italians and other Catholic Europeans. During his administration, he increased the number of parochial schools in his diocese from one to two hundred. His construction campaign extended to parish churches as well. He established and built so many new parish churches within the diocese that they were completed almost at the rate of one a month.

Neumann actively invited religious institutes to establish new houses within the 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 an orphanage. He also intervened to save the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a congregation for African-American women, from dissolution.

His facility with languages endeared him to the many new immigrant communities in the city. As well as ministering to newcomers in his native German, he also spoke Italian fluently and ministered personally to a growing congregation of Italian-speakers in his private chapel. He eventually established the first Italian national parishes in the country for them.

Neumann was notorious for his frugality. He kept and wore only one pair of boots throughout his residence in the United States. When given the gift of new vestments, he would often use them to fit the newest ordained priest in the diocese.

Neumann's efforts to expand the Catholic Church throughout his diocese was not without opposition. The Know Nothings, an anti-Catholic political party representing descendants of earlier immigrants to North America, was at the height of its activities. They set fire to convents and schools. Discouraged, Neumann wrote to Rome asking to be replaced as bishop, but Pope Pius IX insisted that he continue. In 1854, Neumann traveled to Rome and was present at St. Peter's Basilica on December 8, along with 53 cardinals, 139 other bishops, and thousands of priests and laity, when Pope Pius IX solemnly defined, ex cathedra, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

While doing errands on 5 January 1860, Neumann collapsed and died on a city street, due to a stroke. He was 48 years old. Bishop James Frederick Wood, who had been appointed his coadjutor with right of succession, took office as Bishop of Philadelphia.


The first step toward proclamation of Neumann as a saint was his being declared venerable by Pope Benedict XV in 1921. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council on 13 October 1963, and was canonized by that same pope on 19 June 1977. His feast days are 5 January, the date of his death, on the Roman calendar for the Church in the United States of America, and 5 March in the Czech Republic.

After his canonization, the National Shrine of Saint John Neumann was constructed at the Parish of St. Peter the Apostle in Philadelphia. The remains of St. John Neumann rest under the altar of the shrine within a glass-walled reliquary.

In 1980, Our Lady of the Angels College, founded by the congregation of Franciscan Sisters he had founded and located within the archdiocese, was renamed Neumann College. It was granted university status by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2009.

Jubilee year

In 2011, the Redemptorist Fathers celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of St. John Neumann. The Neumann Year lasted until June 23, 2012.

The text in this box was generated from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the CC-BY-SA.

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