|St John Neumann (1811-1860)|
Today we celebrate the feast of a beloved Saint who was canonized on the same day that I was ordained a priest, June 19, 1977. St John Neumann was born in Bohemia, Czechoslovakia in 1811, and he was nearing his ordination when his bishop stopped all ordinations because he had too many priests. John wrote to other European bishops with the same response – too many priests. How times have changed because today we have the opposite situation with lack of vocations.
Since John had learned some English from fellow American workers where he used to work, he decided to write to the US Bishops, and the New York bishop accepted him, and ordained him, and assigned him to a parish that spanned 90 miles by 150 miles long in territory. He was one of 36 priests who were taking care of over 200,000 Catholics in New York state. He travelled from town to town, baptizing, marrying and burying people in various mission stations. Frequently he celebrated Mass on the kitchen table in homes he visited. Because he felt isolated at times, he joined the Redemptorists, an order dedicated to help the poor and the abandoned. In 1852, he became the Bishop of Philadelphia, one of the dioceses who had parish schools, started by St Elizabeth Ann Seton, whose feast we celebrated yesterday. Because he loved people so much, he learned a few extra languages so that he could hear their confessions, including Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch and even Gaelic, so much that an Irish woman rejoiced by saying ‘Thank God he sent us an Irish priest!’ In one of his visits to Germany, he once reached a house drenched with the rain. And when the owner of the house asked him to change his shoes, he responded by saying “The only way I can change my shoes is to put my left shoe on my right foot, and my right shoe on my left foot. This is the only pair of shoes I have.” So he walked in bare feet until his shoes dried up. St John Neumann died on January 5, 1860, at the age of 48. Today, American Catholics as well as Czechs and Slovak Catholics rejoice with their beloved Saint.