Tag Archives: Redemptorists

St. John Neumann: The Glory of All Emigrants

_5442459Surprisingly, 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.”

A Saintly Humility

All founders of new religious institutes undergo severe trials as the community root’s are established but none can seem to top the anguish of today’s saint, St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), bishop and founder of the Redemptorists (Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer).

To put it briefly, St. Alphonsus was tricked, due to his old age, infirmities and trust in his advisors, into signing a modified rule which eliminated or changed the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and perseverance. When he learned the truth of what he had signed, he wept bitter tears. Pope Pius VI, believing in Alphonsus’ complicity, ordered Alphonsus at age 86 to be expelled from his own congregation.

Ironically, Alphonsus was beatified by the same pope, an investigation having cleared Alphonsus’ good name. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1781 and is acclaimed as one of the Church’s greatest Moral and Marian theologians. In art, he is often depicted hunched over because he suffered from severe rheumatism. His congregation flourished after this death and today they number over 5000 priests and brothers around the globe who bring the Good News to the abandoned poor.

He appropriately said, “Persecutions are to the works of God what the frosts of winter are to plants. Far from destroying them, they allow them to strike their roots deeper in soil and make them more full of life. What really injures religious orders and brings the plant to decay like a worm gnawing at the root are voluntary sins and shortcomings. So let us put an end to these imperfections, let us correct ourselves, and God will protect us. The more violently persecution rages, the more closely must we become attached to Jesus Christ.”

Our Mother of Perpetual Help

Today, we celebrate the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Having lived in a Redemptorist Parish for 10 years, I am very familiar with the devotion and have a great fondness for the image and what it invokes.

The Redemptorists have custody of the miraculous and ancient icon in their Church, San Alfonso, in Rome. According to tradition, the icon originally came from Crete, found its way into private hands and in 1499, was displayed in the Church of St. Matthew in Rome.

The icon was rescued when the Church was destroyed by Napoleon’s army and remained in obscurity until until the Redemptorists asked Pope Pius IX for guardianship of it, for they had learned that the site of their new church in Rome, San Alfonso (named after their founder St. Alphonsus Liguori), was built on the site of the very same St. Matthew’s that had once housed the relic. The icon was transferred to the new Church in 1866. As the guardians of the holy icon, the Holy Father entrusted them with the mission to “make her known throughout the world.” During the restoration of the icon about 20 years ago, it was determined that it was about 600 years old.

The symbolism depicted in the icon is most touching and reassuring. Mary is holding Jesus while the Archangels Michael and Gabriel hover in the background.  On the left side, Michael is holding a lance and  a sponge while Gabriel is holding the cross and nails. Jesus’ eyes are fixed on the Cross. Mary’s eyes gaze solemnly at us. One of Jesus’ sandals is loose, indicating that in His haste to get to Mary He almost lost a shoe! Though some say it indicates the Divine and human nature of Christ.

The Handmaids of the Precious Blood in Lake Villa, Illinois, have two beautiful stained glass windows depicting the scene in the icon before Jesus is in Mary’s arms. In one window, Jesus is running to Mary with His loose sandal behind Him; in the other, Mary with outstretched arms is awaiting Him.

Mary is telling us to ponder and keep in mind the salvation her Son has won for us in His Passion and death. Jesus, meanwhile, is telling us to run to Mary. If we stay close to her, we have nothing to fear.

Two beautiful shrines to Our Mother of Perpetual Help are at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston and St. Michael’s Church in Old Town, Chicago. As the patroness of Haiti, may Our Mother of Perpetual Help be of constant help to them and those who are far from home.

Religious Renewal in Ukraine

Redemptoristine Sisters in Ukraine

“The people bear witness to their faith quite openly.” With these words, Sister Margret Obereder, Provincial Mother Superior of the Redemptoristine Order in the Ukraine, described the religious revival in that East European country.

In this post at the Aid to the Church in Need website, author Michael Varenne reports that the Conference of Mothers Superior of Orders of the Greek-Catholic Church in the Ukraine, which is headed by Sister Obereder, now has a membership of 19 religious order communities with 850 Sisters.

In the last few years, 24 young women have joined the Order of Redemptoristines alone. They are active in five parishes in Lviv, Kamianets-Podilskyi, Ternopil and Chernihiv, especially in the area of youth ministry.