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Saint John Nepomucene Neumann

(28.3. 1811 Ė 5.1. 1860)

John Nepomuk Neumann

John Nepomuk Neumann, a native of Prachatice, was an American missionary, bishop and pioneer of Catholic education in the USA. He is known to us as an example of a courageous man, who was not satisfied, when things Ąwerenít possible,ď but constantly looked for new ways to fulfil his ideals. When he was unable to be ordained in Bohemia, he left for the New World - for America. He crossed the ocean as if he wanted to say - we all have to cross a sea of problems with our faith in order to reach a new life.

He was born on the 28th of March 1811 in Prachatice. His father came from Bavaria - from Obernburg.

On completing secondary school the young John entered the clerical seminary in »eskť Budžjovice, where he was admitted to lower holy orders. He studied the final year of theology in Prague. He was deeply hurt, when his ordination was indefinitely deferred on account of the excessive numbers of priests in the »eskť Budžjovice diocese. However, this didnít weaken his calling to the pristhood. He decided to go to be a missionary in America and to try to be ordained there.

In February 1836 he left for the USA through Germany. He travelled as a poor cleric, without money and without a specific destination. He wanted to do everything in his power to serve God and the Holy Spirit in the new country: ĄI will hang about the American dioceses one, two or three times. I will request permission to work for the most forlorn souls, whether they are Germans or Indians. And if nobody will receive me, Iíll retire into seclusion, where I will do penance for my sins and for the sins of others.ď

However, John didnít have to look for a bishop to receive him for long. Immediately after his arrival in New York on July the 2nd 1836 he was received by the local bishop Jean Dubois, who ordained him as a priest in the shortest possible time. In three days the bishop had already sent him to a remote place of work in the area of Niagara Falls.

The young missionary priest worked for four years in the region between the town of Buffalo and Rochester. At that time there were no wide tarred roads or even railway lines. And so he had to cover hundreds of kilometres on horseback, by boat or on foot through impenetrable forests, swamps and rivers in order to be able to visit the scattered houses and settlements of the new settlers.

In the course of this work he had the possibility to meet and to get to know several missionaires of a self-sacrificing and deeply spiritual disposition from the Monastic order of the society of Redemptionists. Because he himself was drawn to a more deeply spiritual and also a more sociable life,
he applied to be accepted into the order. He received the orderís vestments in 1840 and within four years he had already become the superior of the orderís house in Pittsburgh and in 1847 he became the head of all the Redemptionists in the USA. This responsible function didnít hinder him from carrying out missionary work and organising parish life in the new clerical districts. He carried out spiritual renewal, built churches, founded parisch schools and various parish associations. In 1851 he took over leadership of the important Baltimore parish. Here he was able to fully develop his pastoral abilities and zeal in spiritual service.

At this time the bishop of Philadelphia died. The bishop of Baltimore F.P. Kenrick didnít have to think long about the matter and he put forward
Jan Neumann for the vacant bishopric, which he duly took over on the 28th of March 1852.

small John Neumann

The new bishop didnít loose his missionary fervour. He devoted most of his time and energy to doing the rounds
of the parishes. He visited the bigger places every year and the smaller ones once every two years. Each visit changed into a 3 - 4 day period of spiritual renewal. He also devoted an impressive amount of time to the field of parish organization. He built 80 churches in the eight years of his work as bishop. A 40 - hour adoration took place once a year in every church. This normally happened on the anniversary of the consecration of the church. He paid particular attention to the elementary parish schools. On entering the office of bishop there had been only two parish schools in the whole length and breadth of the diocese. After eight years of his activity there were around one hundred. The schools were well organized and so John Neumann can be truly considered as a co-founder of American catholic education.

The compassionate bishop didnít only devote himself to his flock, but he remembered their spiritual pastors.
He reformed the priestly seminary and built a small seminary, too. This was one of the first in the United States.
He compiled wise rules for the consecration of the clergy. With this aim in mind, he organized three diocesan synods and himself took part in three national councils in Baltimore.

Bishop Neumann placed great worth on the work of monks and particularly on that of nuns. He founded a separate chapter of Franciscan sisters together with the building of a Ąfixedď hospital and orphanage. He saved several nuns from ruin - for example Holy wafers were provided to help the coloured polpulation. He supported the arrival of new sisters from Europe and after their arrival he paternally helped them to settle in in their new environment.

In autumn 1845 he set out for Rome to the celebration of the announcement of the dogma of the Virgin Maryís immaculate conception.

He arrived in the Eternal City in November. He stayed at the Redemptionists monastery as a normal friar and from there he undertook his pilgrimages to the different basilicas, together with a penance, on foot. Making use of this opportunity he also paid a visit to the highest ecclesiastical circles in the Vatican. Pope Pius IX. received him in a private audience.

Before returning to the States, John Neumann also wanted to visit his home, where his father and sisters still lived. At the beginning of December he left from Prague, where he had formerly finished his studies of theology. He also stopped off at the mother-convent of the St.-Borromeas-sisters, where his sister Johanna was the Mother Superior. He wanted to reach Prachatice quietly and unnoticed, but people already knew about his journey and didnít allow themselves to be surprised. When bishop Neumann approached Prachatice in his sledge, he was greeted by bell, music and gun salutes. All the people were on the streets, kneeling in the snow and asked for his blessing. In the house where he was born he was embraced by his father and youngest sister after an absence of 19 years.

Bishop Neumann stayed in Prachatice for a week. Then he proceeded through Germany and England back to the States, where he arrived at the end of March.

Enriched by so many impressions and grateful to god for everything he had experienced in Rome and at home, he became absorbed in his exhausting work, which he pursued ceaslessly. He didnít get a break until the 5th of January 1860, when his heart failed on a street in Philadelpia.
He was two months short of his 49th birthday. When archbishop Kenrick of Baltimore learned about his death, he said: ĄA bishop like Neumann could only die on the road. His life was an incessant march.ď

Yes, his life was an incessant march: to the people and to God.

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