of Philadelphia, was born in Prachatitz in Bohemia
on 28th March 1811, son of Philip Neumann and
Agnes Lebis. He attended school in Budweis and
entered the seminary there in 1831.
Two years later he passed to the Charles Ferdinand
university in Prague, where he studied theology.
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
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.
The first priest to enter the Congregation in
America, he took his vows in Baltimore on 16th
From the beginning he was highly regarded by his
fellow religious for his evidente holiness, for
his zeal and affability.
His knowledge of six modern languages made him
particularly acceptable for work in the multi-lingual
American society of the nineteenth century.
After working in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, in
1847 he was appointed Visitor or Major Superior
of the Redemptorists in the United States.
Father Frederick von Held, superior of the Belgian
province, to which the American houses belonged,
said of him: “He is a great man who combines piety
with a strong and prudent personality”. He needed
these qualities during the two years he was in
office, as the American foundation were passing
through a trying period of adjustment.
When he handed over his charge to Father Bernard
Hafkenscheid the Redemptorists of the United States
were better prepared to become an autonomous province,
which eventuated in 1850.
Father Neumann was named Bishop of Philadelphia
and was consecrated in Baltimore on 28th March
1852. His diocese was a very large one and going
through a period of considerable development.
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
He founded the Sisters of the Third Order of St.
Francis to teach in the schools.
Among the more than eighty churches built during
his episcopate must be mentioned the cathedral
of SS. Peter and Paul, which he commenced.
St. John Neumann was of small stature, never robust
in health, but in his short lifetime he achieved
a great deal. He found time even for a considerable
literary activity in addition to his pastoral
As well as numerous articles in Catholic papers
and periodicals he published two catechisms and
in 1849 a Bible history for schools.
He continued to be active right to the end.
On 5th January 1860 (48 years old) he collapsed
in the street in his episcopal city and died before
the last Sacraments could be administered.
He was beatified by Pope Paul VI on October 13,1963
and canonized on June 19, 1977.