Acta Sanctorum: St. John Neumann (Jan 5)
January 05, 2024
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

January 5
St. John Neumann
Life. (1811-1860)

It is a comfort for the people of Rochester, N.Y., to know that a canonized saint lived in their midst. The saint was John Nepomucene Neumann, a Redemptorist priest who died as bishop of Philadelphia. Rochester Catholics should, therefore, learn about this heroic apostle. And all other American Catholics as well.

John was born in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) of a German father and a Slavic mother. From the start he was notable for his seriousness, his devotion, and his ability as a student. It was no surprise that, as he grew up, he felt a calling to the priesthood, and pursued the studies that were required. He intended to be ordained a priest of his home diocese of Budweis. By the time he completed his studies, however the bishop of Budweis had more than enough priests; and declined to ordain this new candidate.

John saw in this fact a confirmation of his yen to become a missionary in the United States. He had read that the German-speaking immigrants over here were crying out for priests. Though not yet ordained a priest, he wrote to John Dubois, bishop of New York, offering his services in that diocese, which then embraced all of New York State.

No word of acceptance arrived, so the young deacon set out anyhow on the long, hard journey. When he reached New York, he had one suit of clothes and one dollar to his name. But he received a warm welcome from Bishop Dubois, who had written to Europe three weeks before of his acceptance. Neumann’s boat and the mail boat had apparently passed each other at sea.

Dubois ordained this immigrant deacon to the priesthood in old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Mott Street, Manhattan, on Saturday, June 25, 1836. The bishop then assigned him to work among the Germans in the vicinity of Buffalo. He left New York on June 28, and by the end of the following month he had begun his apostolate, working out of Williamsville.

The new little “German” priest proved to be a true missionary. He worked up and down in western New York as far east as Batavia, building churches, opening schools, teaching, preaching and administering the sacraments. His ability with six languages proved very helpful.

During these early years, he made his first contact with the German Redemptorist Fathers who had lately begun to work among the Germans of western New York. Attracted to them, Father John applied to join their society after four years as a diocesan priest. He took his vows in 1842 – the first Redemptorist to be professed in America.

Father Neumann’s career as a Redemptorist was quiet but effective. His skill as well as his holiness prompted the Redemptorists to promote him to the post of head of the order in the United States. In 1852, he was named bishop of Philadelphia. For the next eight years, he proved to be a deeply spiritual pastor – ever humble and unobtrusive, but still a true missionary in prayer and work. He died suddenly of a stroke as he walked the streets of Philadelphia on church business.

Where does Rochester fit into this biography? At the very beginning of his priestly career. When Bishop Dubois sent the new priest to Buffalo in 1836, he told him to stop off for a week in Rochester to say Mass for the German Catholics there. They had recently been organized into a congregation by the Redemptorists. Thus it was that St. John, arriving in Rochester on the 4th of July, 1836, preached his first sermon as a priest and administered his first baptism (both in old St. Patrick’s Church). Then he went on to Buffalo, where he arrived by the Erie Canal on July 12. Later on, as a Redemptorist, Father John came back to Rochester many times. His name stands in the Rochester parish register.

His contacts with us were, therefore, only transient, but they still give Rochesterians, Buffalonians, and Philadelphians a right to consider Bishop John, canonized in 1977, as one of their own.

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture. (1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23)

If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
If I do so willingly, I have a recompense,
but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.
What then is my recompense?
That, when I preach,
I offer the gospel free of charge
so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.


(Year B). As we stand around that throne of infinite wisdom and eternal life, how should the parting words, never to be forgotten, sink into our souls, which we now hear from lips that on the judgment day will be compelled to condemn so many for their pride and disobedience. "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends; you are My friends, if you do the things I command you." (John 15:13-14) And, what is, Christian Brethren, one of His most solemn commandments? Is it not that, so often and in so many forms substantially repeated throughout the sacred writings? "Hear the Church: If a man will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican" (Matt. 18:17); that is, as those who have no part in the inheritance of salvation. To whom but to the very same pastors whom St. Paul had in his mind, when he admonishes us, "Remember your prelates, who have spoken to you the word of God" (Heb. 13:7) did our Redeemer say: "He that heareth you, heareth Me, and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me, and he that despiseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me." (Luke 10:16) 

Again, what a fountain of joy and strength to all the faithful - "for you are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus" do we possess in that last, most sacred declaration of our Redeemer before His Ascension, whereby He teaches all that would be benefited by His most precious Blood that it is the Faith in His Word which begets obedience to His Church that saves mankind. We give the words as recorded by St. Matthew and St. Mark: "Go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature: Go ye therefore, teach all nations": ie., make them your disciples, even as youth are assembled and taught the principles of any salutary knowledge, do you teach mankind the science of salvation: "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved, he that believeth not, shall be condemned": that is, he whose faith is followed by obedience, shall be saved; but faith without obedience will save no one from destruction: "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you, all days, even to the consummation of the world." (Matthew, Chapter 28; Mark, Chapter 16)

Another revealed truth of vital importance in the actual religious state of the world is brought before us by this Decree of the Sovereign Pontiff. We refer to the doctrine of the Church on the nature of Original Sin and the duty of being purified from it in the Sacrament of Baptism.

The widespread disregard of this divine Sacrament among those who are separated from the Catholic fold, has reached a height that is hardly conceivable among any people bearing the Christian name. With the command of Jesus Christ before their eyes, which you have heard a few moments ago, many question its worth, doubt its necessity. Many others discard it altogether; while another numerous class neglect it without remorse, who if they would give a moment's thought to the subject could not but know that the doctrine of Baptism was always an article in their Confessions of Faith. If such be the practical unbelief of vast bodies of men in a divine ordinance of the Christian religion, and that ordinance the very first, and in a certain sense, the easiest of all to comply with, we may with grief for such indifference judge what must be the condition of a great portion of the so called Christian world. But this unbelief is only the development of a still deeper error.

The spirit of the age is to take little account of all sin, whether actual or original. With no thought of God's infinite holiness, before whom the angels themselves are not pure: with no sense of the malignity of sin when theologically speaking, even a slight venial fault is in His sight a greater evil than would be the material destruction of the whole world; it is not to be wondered, though it is to be deplored that multitudes both within and out of the Church, live on and sin as though there were no retribution, good or evil, to be expected hereafter. Hence the words of St. Paul: "The sensual man perceiveth not the things that are of the spirit of God: for it is foolishness to him and he cannot understand: because it is spiritually examined." (I Cor. 2:14)

In the midst of such errors and dangers, which need not be exaggerated, for they are evidently great, it is your lot, Beloved Brethren, to be in this world and to have on hand the work of your salvation. A moment of life and all is over. Either the work is done, according to the measure of grace which God has given you, and you are saved: or it is left undone, and you are lost forever. Only the upright and the earnest can realize the value of this moment. For not nearer to certain destruction were the three children in the furnace of the Assyrian King, than are the far greater number even of Christians, every day that we spend in this "free-living, easy-mannered, fair-spoken world." The God who saved them, can and will save us if we do not forsake Him: if in humility, faith and obedience we commend our souls to His protection. (Pastoral Letter)


Musical Selection


Let there be love shared among us, Let there be love in our eyes, May now Your love sweep this nation, Cause us, Oh Lord, to arise. 
Give us a fresh understanding Of brotherly love that is real Let there be love shared among us, Let there be love. 
Give us a fresh understanding Of brotherly love that is real Let there be love shared among us, Let there be love.
O God, who called the Bishop Saint John Neumann,
renowned for his charity and pastoral service,
to shepherd your people in America,
grant by his intercession
that as we foster the Christian education of youth
and are strengthened by the witness of brotherly love,
we may constantly increase the family of your Church.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever. Amen.