St. John Nepomucene Neumann (1811–1860)
Two American saints are firsts: John Neumann was the first male American saint, and Frances Xavier Cabrini was the first naturalized American citizen to be canonized. St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, like Neumann and Cabrini, was another saint who was an immigrant to this country.
John was born in Bohemia and educated in Prague. He wanted to become a priest, but, curiously, when he applied he was told that there were enough clerics at the moment in that region.
He was not discouraged because he actually longed to be a missionary in the United States, He sailed to New York, arriving with literally his last dollar in his pocket. Ordained there, he was transferred to Buffalo, which fit his concept of “frontier priest” more than Manhattan did. He covered a sizable geographic area outside that upstate city, because he was younger and stronger than the other priest assigned there. He walked constantly to baptize, officiate at weddings, give the Eucharist, and comfort the dying.
Figure 13-2: St. John Neumann
He did not stay in the Buffalo area long but traveled to other regions as a missionary. When he was thirty-one he joined the Redemptorist Order. The first Redemptorist professed in this country, John Neumann served in parishes in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, until he was eventually consecrated bishop of the sprawling city of Philadelphia at age forty-five.
John most emphatically did not want that post. He pleaded with his superiors in Europe to intercede for him with Pope Pius X, to keep the pope from choosing him. It didn't work. He went to Philadelphia, overseeing that city's rapid development, fueled by the growing number of immigrants. He built churches and schools — more new schools than any bishop in the country — and produced a German/English catechism for the newcomers.
A few years after his death, reports of favors and cures obtained through his intercession began and they continue to this day. A man noted for his piety and humility, John Neumann is said to have lived in a tiny room and to have owned only one habit. He is buried in Philadelphia. He was canonized as in 1977, and his feast day is January 5.