Our patron was born on March 28, 1811, in the centuries-old village of Prachalitz in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and taken the same day to the parish church, baptized and named John Nepomucene for one of the patron saints of his homeland. When John Neumann was at the seminary he felt called to be a missionary in America. Tens of thousands of German Catholics had immigrated to the United States and there was an urgent need for German-speaking priests in both the crowded eastern cities and in the sparsely settled farm country to the west. Looking forward to being ordained in 1835, he met with initial disappointment when his bishop decided there would be no new priests ordained in his diocese that year as there was an overage of priests in Bohemia as well as the rest of Europe. So Neumann set out for America-not knowing when he would become a priest or where he would undertake his missionary service. He knew only that in order to follow God’s call he would have to leave his homeland forever, endure the lonely separation from his family, and travel across the ocean to a new and rugged land.
In New York, John was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. His parish in western New York stretched from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania, and he spent most of his time traveling from village to village, climbing mountains to visit the sick, staying in garrets and taverns to teach, and celebrating Mass at kitchen tables. Because of the work and the isolation of his parish, John longed for community and so joined the Redemptorists, a congregation of priests and brothers dedicated to helping the poor and most abandoned.
John Neumann was a priest of extraordinary spirituality, intense devotion to the Eucharist and selfless dedication to the service of humanity. He never wanted any position of authority and begged not to be made a bishop. Notwithstanding his sincere reluctance, Pope Pius IX believed he was the proper choice for Philadelphia and designated John Nepomucene Neumann the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia in 1852.
His accomplishments were many: he administered the largest diocese in the country, built new churches at a rate of one almost every month, founded one religious community (the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis of Philadelphia) and saved another from dissolution (the Oblate Sisters of Providence). As the first bishop to organize a diocesan Catholic School System, he established the pattern for parochial schools in America. John Neumann never lost his love and concern for the spiritual welfare of his people. And because he was a man of short stature, many of them called him “Our Little Bishop” with the greatest affection.
He died suddenly in 1860 at the age of 48, and the people who had known him immediately began to share stories of his extraordinary sanctity. He was canonized in 1977, becoming the first man from the United States to become a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
Further information about St John Neumann can be found at the following link: http://www.stjohnneumann.org/.