St. John Nepomucene Neumann C.Ss.R. D.D.


  St. John Neumann



The Bishop of Philadelphia lay crumpled in the snow a few blocks from his new cathedral on Logan Square.  By the time a priest reached him with the holy oils, Bishop Neumann was dead. That was January 5, 1860.  At his own request Bishop Neumann was buried in a basement crypt in Saint Peter's Church where he would be with his Redemptorist confreres.


Almost immediately devout souls were drawn to his grave. They came from far and near.  More than a few were claiming extraordinary miracles of grace.  It was as though John Neumann, Now dead, continued his works of mercy among his people.  For decades of years this unsolicited devotion continued. Finally after many years and many incontrovertible miracles worked through the intercession of this holy man, his Cause was introduced in Rome.  In 1921 Pope Benedict XV saw fit to have John Neumann declared "Venerable".  The Procession of the faithful continued and in 1963 Pope Paul VI declared him "Blessed" John Neumann.  The crowds of pilgrims prompted the building of the lower church.  His remains, remarkably well preserved after a century of interment, were exhumed and placed in a glass encasement beneath the altar in the lower church.  Bus loads of pilgrims came from different parishes throughout the year to pray to Saint John.  Finally the long expected happened in Rome on 1977.  Pope Paul VI declared John Neumann a Saint in heaven.

     Now Pilgrims came from all over the world.   From his native Bohemia, from Germany and Holland they came to claim allegiance to one of their own.  Pope John Paul II made it a point to come to visit the Shrine when he came to Philadelphia to attend the Eucharistic Congress.  Yes, the City of Brotherly Love was bursting with joy. The diocesan seminarians from St. Charles, Overbrook, have made annual pilgrimages to his tomb.  The various Irish Societies of Philadelphia have made formal pilgrimages to the tomb of this humble man of God who, as bishop, did so much for their immigrant forebears in the 1850's -- this "foreigner" who went to the trouble of studying enough Irish to be able to hear the confessions of those who "had no English," up in the coal regions of nineteenth century Pennsylvania.

 Those of Italian extraction remember Bishop Neumann as the founder of the first national parish for Italians in the United States.  At a time when there was no priest to speak their language, no one to care for them, Bishop Neumann, who had studied Italian as a seminarian in Bohemia, gathered them together in his private chapel and preached to them in their mother tongue.  In 1855 he Purchased a Methodist Church in South Philadelphia, dedicated it to St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, and gave them one of his seminary professors, Father John Tornatore, C.M., to be their pastor.


Bishop Neumann lays several claims to fame in Philadelphia and the United States.  Ever a humble and self-effacing person, he would be the last one to mention it himself, but the records stand.  It was he who organized the first diocesan schedule of the Forty Hours' Devotion in America.  The credit is likewise his of establishing the first system of parochial schools in various parts of the country when Neumann came to Philadelphia -- but the first unified system of Catholic schools under a  diocesan board.  This he did in may of 1852, a fortnight before the Plenary Council at Baltimore which seconded his proposals.


He may also lay claim to being founder of a religious order for women, the Third Order of St. Francis of Glen Riddle, whose Rule he drafted in 1855 after returning from Rome for the solemn promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

The School Sister of Notre Dame likewise regard Bishop Neumann as their secondary founder, their "father in America."  In 1847, Father John Neumann, superior of the Redemptorist  Order at the time, welcomed the first band of these teaching sisters from Munich.  He found them a home in Baltimore and then provided them with teaching assignments in his Order's parish schools at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New York, Buffalo and Philadelphia.


Bishop Neumann, as a young priest, was the first to make his religious profession as a Redemptorist in the New World.  This he did in 1842 in the Church of St. James in Baltimore.  Before his elevation to the See of Philadelphia at the age of 41, he had served as rector of St. Philomena's, Pittsburgh, and St. Alphonsus, Baltimore, as well as vice-provincial of this missionary order in America.

 Recent research in the files of the State Department show that Bishop Neumann became a naturalized citizen of the United States at Baltimore on February 10, 1848, renouncing allegiance to the Emperor of Austria in whose realm he was born on March 28, 1811.  On his 41st birthday, he was consecrated bishop of Philadelphia by Archbishop Francis Kendrick at St. Alphonsus Church in Baltimore, in 1852.


Before joining the Redemptorists John N. Neumann labored as a diocesan priest in Western New York.  He was ordained in June of 1836 by Bishop John Dubois at old St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mott Street, New York City.  The following week he was pastor of the whole Niagara Frontier, some hundred square miles of swampy primeval forest.   Many German immigrants had settled this sector of the diocese and  were in danger of losing the Faith.  It was for this reason that Father Neumann was sent there.  He built churches, raised log schools where possible and even taught the three R's himself to the German and Irish children.

 "Among the shepherds of the flock in Philadelphia," wrote the late Pope Pius XII, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the diocese, "the figure of Venerable John Neumann is pre-eminent.  It was mainly through his prodigious efforts that a Catholic school system came into being and that parochial schools began to rise across the land.  His holy life, his childlike gentleness, his hard labor and his tremendous foresight is still fresh and green among you.  The tree planted and watered by Bishop Neumann now gives you its fruit."   James J. Galvin C.Ss.R.


It was fitting indeed that Bishop Neumann was beatified during the Second Vatican Council.  In a personal letter to each bishop of the world, before the opening of the Council, the Holy Father asked each bishop to aim at achieving the heights of personal sanctity in order to assure its success. He reminded them of their first and highest mission of carrying on a constant policy of instruction and of pastoral visitation so that they can say: "I know my sheep, each and every one," and that one of the great blessings that can come to a diocese is a bishop who sanctifies, who keeps watch and who sacrifices himself.  All these qualities are pre-eminent in the life and holiness of Bishop Neumann, the shepherd declared Blessed during this council.


(The following Miracles were approved by the Vatican for the Canonization of Bishop Neumann)

EVA BENASSI, an eleven-year-old girl who lived in the town of Sassuolo near Milan,  in northern Italy,  was a boarding student at the local Institute of St. Joseph.  It was in May, 1923;  Eva seemed drowsy during study time,  had headaches,  abdominal pains and fever.  The doctor,  Louis Barbante,  prescribed medicine,  and when the girl grew worse he diagnosed the case as tubercular peritonitis.   The disease grew progressively worse.  She became weaker and weaker.  The priest prepared her for death.  The physician told the relatives and attendants that death was imminent,  foreseeable in the course of that night.  Sister Elizabeth had the community and the girl pray for a cure through the intercession of Bishop Neumann.  A picture of Bishop Neumann,  to which was attributed the cure of Eva's father previously,  was applied to her. This happened between 8 and 9 o'clock Monday evening.  That night all symptoms disappeared.  When her doctor visited her in the morning he found a patient of whose death he had expected to hear  cured without any signs of peritonitis.  Nine doctors of the Sacred Congregation of Rites decided after a long investigation that the correct diagnosis was acute diffused peritonitis.  The Vatican Medical College stated that Eva's cure was instantaneous,  perfect,  lasting,  and,  "naturally unexplainable."

J. KENT LENAHAN, JR., of Villanova,  Pa., a music teacher and band leader,  on the evening of July 8,  1949,  was crushed in an automobile accident between the car and a utility pole and then hurled to the ground.  He was rushed to the hospital,  his skull crushed.  One eye almost jarred out of its socket by the force of the blow hung over his cheek-bone, and he was bleeding copiously from ears, nose and mouth.  For four days the youth hung between life and death.  A rib fractured in the accident had torn a gaping hole in one lung.  His condition was considered so hopeless that these items were not even detailed in the hospital record.  His fever rose to 107 degrees and his pulse was 160.  All hope for his recovery was abandoned.  His parents had secured a portion of the cassock of Bishop Neumann which they brought to the hospital and applied to their apparently dying son.  Within a few hours his temperature had dropped to 100 degrees and his pulse rate was nearly normal.  Soon the entire hospital building was buzzing with amazing news of Kent's recovery.  In a few days his numerous injuries were well on their way towards complete healing.   Five weeks after the accident he walked unaided form the hospital.  Within a couple of weeks he was out mowing the front lawn and soon was back playing his trumpet,  and at his hobby,  lifting weights.

MICHAEL FLANIGAN a six-year-old boy from West Philadelphia,  after undergoing months of treatment for osteomyelitis (a bone inflation) was found in July of 1963 to have Ewing's Sarcoma,  a usually lethal form of bone cancer.  Doctors gave Michael six months to live. The cancer,  virtually incurable when it spreads beyond the initial diseased area,  had spread from the youth's right tibia to his jaw and lungs.   When doctors notified Michael's parents that their son had virtually no chance of recovering from the disease,  Mr. and Mrs. John Flanigan decided to take Michael to the Bishop Neumann Shrine at St. Peter's Church,  5th St. and Girard Ave.  After several visits to the Shrine,  Michael began to make a dramatic recovery.  No signs of cancer were found in this jaw and lungs by October,  1963.  By Christmas, 1963,  when Michael was supposed to be dead or close to death,   all signs of Ewing's Sarcoma had vanished.  In December,  1975,   after a final examination of Michael's medical records,  the Medical Board of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared that Michael Flanigan's cure was "scientifically and medically unexplainable,"  and attributed it to the intercession of Bishop Neumann.  It was this miracle which paved the way toward sainthood for the Philadelphia Bishop.

Information from:
National Shrine of St. John Neumann
1019 North Fifth Street
Philadelphia Pennsylvania 19123, USA


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