This American saint was actually born in Bohemia on March 28, 1811, the son of Agnes and Phillip Neumann. He was drawn to the religious life early on and entered the diocesan seminary of Budweis in 1831. Two years later, he attended the archiepiscopal seminary at Prague University. Because of the overwhelming surplus of priests in Bohemia at that time, the bishop decided to halt ordinations. This is something we find almost impossible to fathom today as we pray for the Lord for more priestly vocations in the US.
John learned English by working in a factory with English-speaking workers, and, determined to become a priest, wrote to the bishops of America. Following his calling, John left his homeland forever and traveled to the United States where he was ordained in New York. John was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. He was assigned to a church that had neither steeple nor even a floor, but John was so glad to be a priest that it mattered not to him. He spent most of his time traveling from village to village, climbing mountains, visiting the sick, and even celebrating Mass in homes at kitchen tables. John eventually joined the Redemptorists, a congregation of priests and brothers dedicated to helping the poor.
In 1852, he was appointed bishop of Philadelphia and was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system. As a founder of Catholic education in the US, he increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to 100. John became fluent in many languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch and this enabled him to hear confessions in all these languages as well as English. When the Irish started coming to America, he learned Gaelic so well that some of the Irish actually thought he was Irish.
John Neumann was known for his deep holiness, charity, pastoral work and preaching. He was canonized the first American male saint in 1977 by Pope Paul VI, Elizabeth Ann Seton being the first female American saint.
From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day
A man must always be ready, for death comes when and where God wills it.
— Reported last words of St. John Neumann
If today should be the day the Lord would call me home, would I be ready? What are my outstanding sins? Whose forgiveness do I need to ask? Whom do I need to forgive? What would be the last words my loved ones would remember me saying to them?
We thank you, Lord, for bringing St. John Neumann to the United States where he accomplished so very much for the Church and Catholic education. We pray, dear Lord, for an increase in priestly vocations in our country so that we may experience a surplus of priests! We thank you, Father, for our priests and we thank St. John for answering Your call. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Telesphorus (136), Pope, Martyr