Son of Philip, who was German and owned a stocking factory, and Agnes Neumann who was Czech, John was a small and quiet boy with four sisters and a brother and was named after Saint John Nepomucene. An excellent student, John early felt drawn to religious life. Seminarian at Budweis, Bohemia in 1831, he studied astronomy and botany in addition to theological topics. He studied theology at Charles Ferdinand University at Prague in 1833.
When time came for his ordination, the bishop was sick; the date was never reset because Bohemia had an over-abundance of priests. John decided to go to America to ask for ordination and work with emigres. He walked most of the way to France, then took ship for America.
John arrived unannounced in Manhattan in 1836. Bishop John Dubois was happy to see him as there were 36 priests for the 200,000 Catholics in New York and New Jersey. John was ordained on 28 June 1836, and sent to Buffalo. There the parish priest, Father Pax, gave him the choice of the city of Buffalo or of the rural area. John chose the more difficult country area. He stayed in a small town with an unfinished church, and when it was completed, he moved to a town with a log church. There he built himself a small log cabin, rarely lit a fire, slept little, often lived on bread and water, and walked miles to visit farm after remote farm. John’s parishioners were from many lands and tongues, but John knew twelve languages, and worked with them all.
He joined the Redemptorists at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1840, taking his vows at Baltimore, Maryland in 1841, the first Redemptorist to do so in the United States. He did mission work in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. He was Rector of Saint Philomena church in Pittsburgh in 1844 and Vice-regent and Superior of the Redemptorists in America in 1847. He was consecrated Bishop of Philadelphia in 1852.
He built fifty churches and began building a cathedral. He opened almost one hundred schools, and the number of parochial school students in his diocese grew from 500 to 9,000. He wrote newspaper articles, two catechisms, and many works in German. He was the first American man and first American bishop to be canonized.
Born: 28 March 1811 at Prachititz, Bohemia (Czech Republic)
Died : 5 January 1860 of a stroke at 13th and Vine Streets, Philadephia, Pennsylvania
Beatified: 13 October 1963 at Rome, Italy
Canonized: 19 June 1977 by Pope Paul VI
(Source for the above is http://www.catholic-forum.com)
The Story of our Unique St. John Neumann Statue
Wednesday, January 5, 2005 the statue of St John Neumann was blessed by Fr John Friel after the 9:00 am Mass. However, this statue had a story prior to the blessing.
The sculptor is Timothy P. Schmalz whose studio is in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. He has been sculpting church projects for many years. Over a year ago, his representative contacted Fr John regarding this work and at that time he declined his offer to purchase the statue due to the cost and advice of the parish council to buy only what is necessary. October 2004, the representative again contacted Fr John, advising that this bronze sculpture was available at a more appealing price because the parish that had ordered the piece cancelled its order.
After consulting with the parish council and making several phone calls to people knowledgeable in church art work, it was agreed to purchase this sculpture of our patron. The statue arrived all crated and intact December 2004. Several of the men of the parish assembled to uncrate and move this statue into the church and then after a plan had been devised for securing the sculpture, it was installed outside in front of our church on Mesa Drive.
This statue of St John Neumann depicts his early years as a priest as he pastored the Niagara Frontier and often walked miles and miles in cold and snow as he established missions in Williamsville, Cheektowaga, Tonawanda and Niagara Falls. These places and this Saint have a special meaning for our present pastor, Fr John Friel, as he is from the Philadelphia area and would drive past St John Neumann’s tomb on his way home from work each night. Also, on his way to his first assignment as a seminarian, he flew from Philadelphia to Buffalo and then drove through Williamsville, Cheektowaga and Tonawanda winding up in Niagara Falls. Some would call this coincidence.
Many parishioners have expressed delight with this sculpture. Our winter residents have identified with the cold climate that St John Neumann hiked through on the Niagara Frontier. Our Latino community can identify with him as he ministered primarily to immigrants. Builders of churches can identify with him and that is why this statue is mounted out front. Note he is facing the property on 40th Street where our new church will be built. We could not do any better than having St John Neumann as our Patron Saint and leader as we build our new church.