Saint Brigid Religious Education
100 Mayflower Street
West Hartford, CT 06110
St. John Neumann
Feast day: January 5
This American saint was born in Bohemia in 1811. He was looking forward
to being ordained in 1835 when the bishop decided there would be no more
ordinations. It is difficult for us to imagine now, but Bohemia was
overstocked with priests. John wrote to bishops all over Europe but the
story was the same everywhere no one wanted any more bishops. John was
sure he was called to be a priest but all the doors to follow that
vocation seemed to close in his face.
But John didn't give up. He had learned English by working in a factory
with English-speaking workers so he wrote to the bishops in America.
Finally, the bishop in New York agreed to ordain him. In order to follow
God's call to the priesthood John would have to leave his home forever
and travel across the ocean to a new and rugged land.
In New York, John was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. John's
parish in western New York stretched from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania.
His church had no steeple or floor but that didn't matter because John
spent most of his time traveling from village to village, climbing
mountains to visit the sick, staying in garrets and taverns to teach,
and celebrating the Mass at kitchen tables.
Because of the work and the isolation of his parish, John longed for
community and so joined the Redemptorists, a congregation of priests and
brothers dedicated to helping the poor and most abandoned.
John was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. As bishop, he was the
first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system. A founder of
Catholic education in this country, he increased the number of Catholic
schools in his diocese from two to 100.
John never lost his love and concern for the people -- something that
may have bothered the elite of Philadelphia. On one visit to a rural
parish, the parish priest picked him up in a manure wagon. Seated on a
plank stretched over the wagon's contents, John joked, "Have you ever
seen such an entourage for a bishop!"
The ability to learn languages that had brought him to America led him
to learn Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch so he could hear
confessions in at least six languages. When Irish immigration started,
he learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, "Isn't it grand
that we have an Irish bishop!"
Once on a visit to Germany, he came back to the house he was staying in
soaked by rain. When his host suggested he change his shoes, John
remarked, "The only way I could change my shoes is by putting the left
one on the right foot and the right one on the left foot. This is the
only pair I own."
John died on January 5, 1860 at the age of 48.