John Neumann


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Redemptorist priest, bishop of Philadelphia. Born at Prachatitz (Bohemia) of a German father and a Czech mother, who owned a small stocking factory, John studied at Budweis seminary and at Prague University. He spoke eight languages and was especially interested in botany and astronomy besides the usual ecclesiastical subjects. His ordination was delayed by the Austrian government and he decided to work on the North American mission. He arrived in Manhattan in June 1836; he was warmly welcomed, although unannounced, by John Dubois, bishop of New York. He ordained him priest and sent him to minister to the German-speaking immigrants, who were clearing forests by Niagara Falls.

After four years of pioneer missionary work he joined the Redemptorist Congregation, founded by Alphonsus Liguori. He was sent as a travelling mission-preacher to the east coast; eventually he became parish priest in Baltimore and Vicar of the Redemptorists. For his outstanding pastoral work he was consecrated bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. He worked prodigiously, having 100 churches and 80 schools built, and spent much time visiting the remote and hitherto neglected areas of his diocese.

Diminutive in stature, lacking ‘presence’ and majesty, he spent much time encouraging many nuns and layfolk to lives of hidden sanctity. Ultimately, this work achieved the recognition which was its due. He was also the author of catechisms, published in 1852; these were widely used in the USA for the rest of the century.

In 1860, worn out with his labours, he dropped dead on Vine Street, Philadelphia. Popular devotion preceded official investigation and approval of the cult. After over 100 years, with the continued support of both his diocese and his Order for the cause of canonization, this was accorded in 1977 at immense financial cost over the years. Feast: 5 January.

F. X. Murphy, ‘Sainthood and Politique’, The Tablet, 18 June 1977. See also B.L.S., i. 40–1: Lives by J. Galvin (1964) and J.F. Hindam (1977).

Subjects: Christianity.

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