January 5—Saint John Neumann, Bishop—Memorial: USA
Optional Memorial in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, German-speaking dioceses
Patron saint of sick children and of immigrants
Canonized by Pope Saint Paul VI on June 19, 1977
Liturgical Color: White
My heart is pierced with sorrow when I hear of the loss of one of my sheep. Lord Jesus, have mercy. Permit not that any one of those whom you have entrusted to me should be lost. O my Jesus, I will pray, fast, suffer, and, with the help of your grace, sacrifice life itself. ~Neumann’s Diary
Born in Prachatitz, Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic), the young John Neumann received a fine education. Upon completing his childhood schooling, he considered becoming a medical doctor. His mother, however, being a woman of much faith, could see that her son’s true desire was to be a priest, so she encouraged him to apply to the seminary. To his surprise, he was accepted and began his seminary studies for the Diocese of Budweis on November 1, 1831 at the age of twenty.
While in the seminary, he was inspired by the missionary journeys of Saint Paul who endured beatings, shipwrecks, stonings, sleepless nights, hunger, and exposure to the elements. Most people would be deterred from missionary work after reading about Saint Paul’s travails, but not Seminarian John Neumann. When he learned about the need for priests in the mission territory of the newly founded United States of America, he made up his mind to cross the ocean to serve there after his ordination.
Upon completing his seminary studies, John’s ordination to the priesthood was initially delayed when his bishop became seriously ill and then ultimately canceled because his diocese had too many priests. The cancellation was John’s sign to imitate Saint Paul, so he immediately boarded a ship to the United States in the hope of finding a bishop to ordain him for service to America’s immigrants. He arrived in New York with one set of clothes and a dollar to his name. To his surprise and delight, the Bishop of New York, John Dubois, a European immigrant of a previous generation, warmly welcomed him and ordained him only seventeen days after his arrival. The bishop was desperate for German-speaking priests to serve his people.
Father Neumann’s first assignment was near Niagara Falls in northern New York, where his parish covered about a thousand square miles, and his parishioners consisted mostly of poor immigrant farmers. Like Saint Paul, he traveled constantly, celebrating Mass, teaching, visiting homes, and building churches. Father John was tireless. His humble, warm, and thoughtful personality made an impression on many. Eventually, providence led him to the Redemptorist Order where he took vows and was later appointed the first General Superior of the order’s ten foundations in America. Five years later, he was named the fourth bishop of Philadelphia. In the City of Brotherly Love, he continued to work tirelessly, establishing the diocesan school system, promoting 40 hours devotion, and building many schools and churches. He traveled constantly so that he could be close to his people and shepherd them in person, rather than from behind a desk. Bishop John Neumann remained in Philadelphia until his death at the age of forty-nine in 1860. In 1977, he became the first American bishop to be canonized a saint. He is one of the first future saints ever to be photographed.
Saint John Neumann’s life should inspire each of us to work diligently to fulfill the mission God has entrusted to us. Oftentimes, zeal and a firm resolve to serve God must come first; then God will show us the way to put that zeal to work. Allow Saint John Neumann’s life to inspire you to deepen your resolve to do all you can for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom on Earth.
Saint John Neumann, you loved God from the depths of your soul and desired to serve Him and His people through tireless charity, preaching, leadership, and compassion. You brought the Gospel on foot to people far and wide, had a deep love for the poor and troubled, and worked as an effective administrator, building up the life of the Church. Please pray for me, that I may be inspired by your zeal and commit myself to the fulfillment of God’s will for my life. Saint John Neumann, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.