Memorial; Liturgical Color: White; St. John Neumann 1811-1860
Today’s saint worked like a mule. He studied, he wrote, he prayed, he preached, he travelled, he built, he founded, he guided, he taught. And then one day, carrying construction plans for his Cathedral in Philadelphia to an office, he collapsed and died in the street. He had worked himself to death. He was 48 years old.
St. John Neumann was born in central Europe, in what is today the Czech Republic. Like many people born in small countries, he had to learn more than his native tongue if he wanted to be a success. But St. John outdid himself. He learned seven languages in addition to his native Czech. He had a gift. Yet he found it hard to find a bishop to ordain him after he had completed his theological studies. He wrote to numerous bishops throughout Europe and to one on the other side of an ocean he had never seen. The other side of the ocean bishop wrote back. If you can get here I’ll ordain you. St. John got there and was ordained in 1836 by Bishop John Dubois of New York, himself a transplant from Paris, France.
He was assigned to rural areas in upstate New York and was outstanding in his zeal for souls. But the isolation was a burden and he felt the need for priestly community. So he joined the Redemptorist Order and began many years of priestly service in Maryland. His intelligence, ability to preach and hear confessions in multiple languages, extraordinary work ethic, life of poverty, good nature, and general holiness were traits that all observed and all admired. He was named the 4th bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. The city’s growth was exploding, especially its Catholic population of immigrants. St. John threw himself into his work with no concern for his own well being. He was a tornado of apostolic activity. He was everywhere. He did everything. The Church benefitted and grew at an extraordinary pace. But St. John did not benefit. His only gear was overdrive. Zeal for His house consumed him. Zeal for His house killed him, in fact. That is probably the way that he wanted it. He was buried in a Redemptorist Church in Philadelphia. His reputation for holiness spread after this death. The faithful asked. The faithful received. The miracles were documented and Philadelphia had its saint. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1977, an immigrant who was the first male American citizen to be raised to the altars.
St. John, you left home and family to toil in the remote regions of the United States for the sake of the gospel. Your tireless dedication to the needs of the Church and her people is an inspiration to all Catholics, especially priests. Help us to enkindle in our hearts the same fire of love that burned in your own heart – the love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.