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Saint John NeumannSt. John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-1860)

HIS FASCINATING LIFE STORY

The Bishop of Philadelphia lay crumpled in the snow a few blocks from his new cathedral on Logan Square. By the time a priest reached him with the holy oils, Bishop Neumann was dead. That was January 5, 1860. At his own request Bishop Neumann was buried in a basement crypt in Saint Peter’s Church where he would be with his Redemptorist confreres.

 


Pilgrimages to Bishop’s Tomb

Almost immediately devout souls were drawn to his grave. They came from far and near. More than a few were claiming extraordinary miracles of grace. It was as though John Neumann, now dead, continued his works of mercy among his people. For decades this unsolicited devotion continued. Finally after many years and many incontrovertible miracles worked through the intercession of this holy man, his Cause was introduced in Rome. In 1921 Pope Benedict XV saw fit to have John Neumann declared “Venerable”. The procession of the faithful continued and in 1963 Pope Paul VI declared him “Blessed” John Neumann. The crowds of pilgrims prompted the building of the lower church. His remains, remarkably well preserved after a century of interment, were exhumed and placed in a glass encasement beneath the altar in the lower church. Bus loads of pilgrims came from different parishes throughout the year to pray to Saint John. Finally the long expected happened in Rome on 1977. Pope Paul VI declared John Neumann a Saint in heaven.

Now pilgrims came from all over the world. From his native Bohemia, from Germany and Holland they came to claim allegiance to one of their own. Pope John Paul II made it a point to visit the Shrine when he came to Philadelphia to attend the Eucharistic Congress. Yes, the City of Brotherly Love was bursting with joy. The diocesan seminarians from St. Charles, Overbrook, have made annual pilgrimages to his tomb. The various Irish Societies of Philadelphia have made formal pilgrimages to the tomb of this humble man of God who, as bishop, did so much for their immigrant forebears in the 1850’s — this “foreigner” who went to the trouble of studying enough Irish to be able to hear the confessions of those who “had no English,” up in the coal regions of nineteenth century Pennsylvania.

Those of Italian extraction remember Bishop Neumann as the founder of the first national parish for Italians in the United States. At a time when there was no priest to speak their language, no one to care for them, Bishop Neumann, who had studied Italian as a seminarian in Bohemia, gathered them together in his private chapel and preached to them in their mother tongue. In 1855 he Purchased a Methodist Church in South Philadelphia, dedicated it to St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, and gave them one of his seminary professors, Father John Tornatore, C.M., to be their pastor.



CATHOLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM ESTABLISHED

Bishop Neumann lays several claims to fame in Philadelphia and the United States. Ever a humble and self-effacing person, he would be the last one to mention it himself, but the records stand. It was he who organized the first diocesan schedule of the Forty Hours’ Devotion in America. The credit is likewise his of establishing the first system of parochial schools in various parts of the country when Neumann came to Philadelphia — but the first unified system of Catholic schools under a diocesan board. This he did in may of 1852, a fortnight before the Plenary Council at Baltimore which seconded his proposals.



FOUNDER OF SISTERS OF ST. FRANCIS

He may also lay claim to being founder of a religious order for women, the Third Order of St. Francis of Glen Riddle, whose Rule he drafted in 1855 after returning from Rome for the solemn promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame likewise regard Bishop Neumann as their secondary founder, their “father in America.” In 1847, Father John Neumann, superior of the Redemptorist Order at the time, welcomed the first band of these teaching sisters from Munich. He found them a home in Baltimore and then provided them with teaching assignments in his Order’s parish schools at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New York, Buffalo and Philadelphia.



A REDEMPTORIST

Bishop Neumann, as a young priest, was the first to make his religious profession as a Redemptorist in the New World. This he did in 1842 in the Church of St. James in Baltimore. Before his elevation to the See of Philadelphia at the age of 41, he had served as rector of St. Philomena’s, Pittsburgh, and St. Alphonsus, Baltimore, as well as vice-provincial of this missionary order in America.

Recent research in the files of the State Department show that Bishop Neumann became a naturalized citizen of the United States at Baltimore on February 10, 1848, renouncing allegiance to the Emperor of Austria in whose realm he was born on March 28, 1811. On his 41st birthday, he was consecrated bishop of Philadelphia by Archbishop Francis Kenrick at St. Alphonsus Church in Baltimore, in 1852.



A DIOCESAN PRIEST

Before joining the Redemptorists John N. Neumann labored as a diocesan priest in Western New York. He was ordained in June of 1836 by Bishop John Dubois at old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mott Street, New York City. The following week he was pastor of the whole Niagara Frontier, some hundred square miles of swampy primeval forest. Many German immigrants had settled this sector of the diocese and were in danger of losing the Faith. It was for this reason that Father Neumann was sent there. He built churches, raised log schools where possible and even taught the three R’s himself to the German and Irish children.

“Among the shepherds of the flock in Philadelphia,” wrote the late Pope Pius XII, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the diocese, “the figure of Venerable John Neumann is pre-eminent. It was mainly through his prodigious efforts that a Catholic school system came into being and that parochial schools began to rise across the land. His holy life, his childlike gentleness, his hard labor and his tremendous foresight is still fresh and green among you. The tree planted and watered by Bishop Neumann now gives you its fruit.” James J. Galvin C.Ss.R.



THE IMMIGRANT SHEPHERD

It was fitting indeed that Bishop Neumann was beatified during the Second Vatican Council. In a personal letter to each bishop of the world, before the opening of the Council, the Holy Father asked each bishop to aim at achieving the heights of personal sanctity in order to assure its success. He reminded them of their first and highest mission of carrying on a constant policy of instruction and of pastoral visitation so that they can say: “I know my sheep, each and every one,” and that one of the great blessings that can come to a diocese is a bishop who sanctifies, who keeps watch and who sacrifices himself. All these qualities are pre-eminent in the life and holiness of Bishop Neumann, the shepherd declared Blessed during this council.

 

In theological terms, a miracle is an extradordinary event, produced by God in a religious context which is beyond the powers of corporeal nature, or at least extremely unlikely from the standpoint of those powers alone. Such events are a sign of supernatural activity.

Pope Benedict XIV set the conditions for the official acceptance of a miracle in his classic work on the Beatification and Canonization Process in the mid 1700’s, and essentially these conditions still stand today. They are:

  1. The illness must be serious and difficult to cure.
  2. The illness must not be in its final phase.
  3. No remedy must have been taken during the illness, or if it has it must be shown to be ineffective.
  4. The cure must be instantaneous.
  5. The cure must be complete.
  6. There must have been no crisis which may have acted as a catalyst for the cure.
  7. The cure must be permanent. 1

This demonstrates the traditional caution the Church employs in officially recognizing miracles. For example, these requirements have been in use at Lourdes, France for decades. The review process for a single alleged miracle is eight to twelve years. Despite this rigor, cures have been pronounced miraculous by the Church. They are a small percentage of the total number presented for examination.

Of the hundreds of miracles claimed to have been obtained through the intercession of St. John Neumann, only three have been evaluated and accepted in accordance with the rigorous Canonization standards. The following are the miracles which satisfied those required for his Canonization. They were quite celebrated in the media at the time of their occurence. They are:

1 Klappenburg, Bonaventure, O.F.M., Pastoral Practice and the Paranormal, trans. David Smith (Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, Ill., 1979), p. 134-135.

 

I.  ITALIAN GIRL, ELEVEN, IS CURED OF ACUTE PERITONITIS

In May, 1923, eleven-year-old Eva Benassi of Sassuolo, Italy was stricken with acute diffused peritonitis. By the time her family’s physician, Dr. Louis Barbanti, correctly diagnosed Eva’s condition, she was beyond medical help.

On a Monday morning a priest gave Eva the last rites. That afternoon Dr. Barbanti told Mr. Benassi that Eva would not live through the night.

Sister Elizabeth Romoli, a teacher at the school Eva attended, decided to pray to Bishop Neumann for Eva’s recovery. Sister Elizabeth credited Bishop Neumann with her father’s recovery from an illness and felt that Neumann might also help Eva.

While praying to Neumann, Sister touched Eva’s swollen abdomen with a picture of the Philadelphia Bishop. Her community of nuns and the Benassi family also prayed to Bishop Neumann.

That night the peritonitis disappeared.

In December 1960, in the final examination of her case, before the beatification of Bishop Neumann, Eva, forty-eight and the mother of two children, was in perfect health.

The Vatican Medical College stated that Eva’s cure was instantaneous, perfect, lasting, and “naturally unexplainable”.

II. NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD VILLANOVAN SAVED AFTER CAR ACCIDENT

On the evening of July 8, 1949, nineteen-year-old Kent Lenahan of Villanova, Pennsylvania was standing on the running board of a moving car. Suddenly the car swerved out of control, crushing Lenahan against a utility pole.

When he arrived at Bryn Mawr Hospital his skull was crushed, his collarbone was broken, one of his lungs was punctured by a rib, he was bleeding from ears, nose and mouth, and he was comatose. His temperature was 107°, his pulse 160.

A few hours after being admitted to the hospital, doctors treating Lenahan decided there was no hope for his recovery, and ceased medical treatment. His parents refused to believe that no one could help their son.

They went to the Bishop Neumann Shrine and prayed for his recovery. A neighbor gave them a piece of Neumann’s cassock. Shortly after the Lenahans touched their son with the cloth, J. Kent Lenahan began to recover from his injuries. His temperature dropped to 100°, his pulse dropped to normal. Less than five weeks after the accident Lenahan walked unaided from the hospital.

Now a music teacher in Pennsylvania, J. Kent Lenahan has only one explanation for being alive today: “They couldn’t explain what happened, so I guess it was the Man upstairs.”

III. BOY’S CANCER DISAPPEARS AFTER PRAYERS TO BISHOP NEUMANN

After months of treatment for osteomyelitis, a bone inflammation, doctors found in July, 1963 that six-year-old Michael Flanigan of West Philadelphia had Ewing’s Sarcoma, a usually lethal form of bone cancer.

Doctors gave Michael six months to live.

The cancer, virtually incurable when it spreads beyond the initial diseased area, had spread from the youth’s right tibia to his jaw and lungs.

“If a similar case came to me today,” a doctor who recently studied Michael’s case commented, “I’d have to say that any chance of survival would be less than zero.”

When doctors notified Michael’s parents that their son had virtually no chance of recovering from the disease, Mr. and Mrs. John Flanigan decided to take Michael to the Bishop Neumann Shrine at St. Peter’s Church, Fifth Street and Girard Avenue.

After several visits to the Shrine, Michael began to make a dramatic recovery. No signs of cancer were found in his jaw and lungs by October, 1963. By Christmas, 1963, when Michael was supposed to be dead or close to death, all signs of Ewing’s Sarcoma had vanished.

In December, 1975, after a final examination of Michael’s medical records, the Medical Board of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared that Michael Flanigan’s cure was “scientifically and medically unexplainable,” and attributed it to the intercession of Bishop Neumann.

It was this miracle that paved the way towards sainthood for the Philadelphia Bishop.

 

The Redemptorists

The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer was St. Alphonsus Liguori’s response to the call he experienced coming from Jesus through the poor. On November 9, 1732, in his beloved Scala, St. Alphonsus Liguori founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer to follow the example of our Savior Jesus Christ announcing the Good News to the poor. His life became one of mission and service to the most abandoned.

In 1832, 100 years after their Congregation was founded, six Redemptorists sailed from Europe to the United States at the request of the American bishops.

They ministered to the needs of the people and opened parishes and schools for them. In 1847, John Neumann, a Bohemian priest from New York was the first Redemptorist to profess vows in the United States.

Following their founder’s tradition, the Redemptorists are leaders in preaching their message of Good News and hope for all: “In Him there is plentiful redemption.”

There are over 5,500 Redemptorists; they work in 77 countries on 5 continents. “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” is the missionary icon of the Congregation.

 

PRAYER FOR HIS INTERCESSION

O Saint John Neumann, your ardent desire of bringing all souls to Christ impelled you to leave home and country; teach us to live worthily in the spirit of our Baptism which makes us all children of the one Heavenly Father and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, the first-born of the family of God.

Obtain for us that complete dedication in the service of the needy, the weak, the afflicted and the abandoned which so characterized your life. Help us to walk perseveringly in the difficult and, at times, painful paths of duty, strengthened by the Body and Blood of our Redeemer and under the watchful protection of Mary our Mother.

May death still find us on the sure road to our Father’s House with the light of living Faith in our hearts. Amen.

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