In the United States, the feast of Saint John Neumann (1811-1860) is celebrated on January 5th. In the present day Czech republic where he was born, it is March 5th.
Because the bishop in his diocese had determined not to ordain priests because there were more than were needed at that time, John, having learned English while working in a factory, wrote to American bishops to request ordination. Bishop John Dubois, S.S., whose diocese included all of New York and New Jersey, ordained him in New York City in 1836. John spent most of his time traveling from village to village, visiting the sick, staying in garrets and taverns to teach, and celebrating Mass at kitchen tables. In 1840 he received permission from the bishop to join the Redemptorist Fathers, entering their novitiate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In 1852 he was appointed Bishop of Philadelphia. As the first United States bishop to organize a Catholic school system, he increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to 100. As part of that effort, he invited many communities of teaching sisters and the Christian Brothers into the diocese, founded a congregation called the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia, and intervened to save the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a congregation of African-American women, from dissolution.
Already fluent in German and English, he also learned Spanish, French, Italian and Dutch in order to hear confessions in the languages of his people. When Irish immigration began, he learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, "Isn't it grand that we have an Irish bishop!"
On January 5, 1860, when he was only 48 years old, he died suddenly on a city street due to a stroke. Declared venerable by Benedict XV in 1921, Pope Paul VI beatified him in 1963 and canonized him in 1977. After his canonization, the National Shrine of Saint John Neumann was constructed at the parish of Saint Peter the Apostle in Philadelphia.
Sr. Joanne Gonter, V.H.M.