Surprisingly, the saint whose feast we celebrate today was not accepted for ordination by his bishop and had to travel around the world in order to fulfill his priestly vocation. St. John Neumann is one of the most famous religious to have been a citizen of the United States and is known for organizing the first diocesan schedule of the Forty Hours’ Devotion in America, as well as, establishing the first system of parochial schools in the United States.
Born in Boehemia in 1811, St. John Neumann sought to serve the Lord by becoming a priest. Unfortunately, the local bishop turned him away citing an excess of priests in the diocese. Undeterred, St. John wrote to bishops throughout Europe who also did not accept him because of the similar circumstances. Finally, the Bishop of New York agreed to ordain him to the priesthood. This meant, however, that he would have to leave his homeland and face many hardships by traveling to live in United States.
After arriving in New York and ordination, St. John Neumann was placed in a parish in western New York. The parish covered a vast area near Niagara Falls forcing the saint to travel throughout the land in order to minister to his people. His isolated life led him to seek community which he found by joining the Redemptorists. In the Redemptorists, he discovered a community which corresponded to his missionary vocation.
in 1852, St. John Neumann was named bishop of Philadelphia where he quickly became known for his pastoral care. He deeply cared for those within his diocese and learned six languages in order to communicate with them and hear their confessions. As bishop, he organized the first diocesan schedule of the Forty Hours’ Devotion in America and established the first system of parochial schools in the United States. These initiatives proved to be hugely successful and were emulated throughout the country.
St. John Neumann has had a great impact on religious life in the United States. He founded the Third Order of St. Francis of Glen Riddle and is one of the first American citizens who belonged to a religious community to be canonized. Pope Paul VI summarized the activity of the new saint by saying, “He was close to the sick, he loved to be with the poor, he was a friend of sinners, and now he is the glory of all emigrants.”