Thursday, January 5, 2012

St John Neumann
at St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia, PA

Today the Church in the USA celebrates another American citizen, John Neumann who was canonized in 1977.  This man was a Bishop who truly committed himself to the poor.  He was born in Bohemia and wanted to become a priest in his homeland but because there was an excessive number of priests already working in his home diocese, the local Bishop was not accept applications for the priesthood.  John made his way to New York City where he accepted into the seminary and ordained in 1836.  Six years later, discerning that God wanted him elsewhere, he was granted permission to enter the Redemptorist order of priests.  In 1847 Fr. John was elected Superior General of the Order and lived at "headquarters" in Baltimore.  In 1848 Fr. Neumann became an American citizen.  In 1852 he was consecrated the 4th Bishop of Philadelphia where he would live out the remainder of his life.

Bishop Neumann started the Diocesan School System and initiated a Diocesan-wide schedule for Forty Hours Devotions.  Likewise the "Little Bishop," as he was named by the people of Philly, initiated the building of many parishes and schools.  At one time there were as many as 340+ parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Bishop Neumann died on January 5, 1860 while returning from bringing the Sacraments of the Sick to a poor man, he fell victim to a heart attack.  He died on the front steps of a local row house in downtown Philadelphia.  At his personal request, he asked that whenever he died, his body would be buried in the crypt of the Redemptorist Father's parish, St. Peter's Parish, in North Philadelphia.  The photo above is the saint's final resting place in the lower church at St. Peter's Church.
John Neumann is the first American male to be canonized (1977) in the United States.  It was my privilege to work with the Philadelphia priest, Msgr. James McGrath, who was the Vice Postulator for John Neumann's case for canonization.  Monsignor McGrath, now deceased, worked diligently for a number of years while the people of Philadelphia daily came to St. Peter's to pray for their various needs.  Eventually, Msgr. McGrath learned of an incident which seemed to be a medical "miracle."  Visiting with the family and the person's doctors, Msgr. McGrath brought the information to the Archbishop of Philadelphia at the time, John Cardinal Krol, who encouraged Msgr. McGrath and helped bring the case to the proper Vatican offices to evaluate the case.  Pope Paul VI canonized Bishop Neumann in 1977.

Truly this "little" man was a spiritual giant.  He truly followed in the steps of the first Bishop of our Church, St. Peter.  He was teacher, preacher and a man dedicated to helping  the poor and to build the Catholic Church in the city of the Declaration of Independence.