January 5, 2017 – Memorial of St. John Neumann
This American saint was born in Bohemia in 1811. 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 priests. John was sure he was called to be a priest but all the doors to follow that vocation seemed to close in his face.
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 tables.
John was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. 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 100.