Neumann, John Nepomucene, fourth Bishop of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., born at Prachatiti, Bohemia, 28 March, 1811, erroneously set down as Good Friday by his biographers; died at Philadelphia, 5 January, 1860. From childhood he evinced signs of a vocation to the priesthood and entered the seminary of Budweis in 1831. A profound theologian, thoroughly versed not only in all branches of sacred learning but in the natural sciences as well, particularly in botany,
he spoke fluently many Slavic dialects at least eight modern languages, besides being master of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, when Bishop of Philadelphia he learned Irish to help the Irish immigrants in his diocese. Finishing his course at the University of Prague with distinction in August, 1835, he returned to Budweis, his native diocese, for ordination. While at the seminary, the letters of Father Baraga, afterwards Bishop of Marquette, Michigan, written to the Leopold Missionary Society, inspired Neumann with the desire of consecrating himself to the American missions. Accordingly, while yet a seminarian he landed in America (2 June, 1836), was adopted, and (25 June, 1836) ordained by Bishop Dubois of New York, who sent him without delay to western New York, where he labored for four years amid incredible hardships. In 1840, he entered the Redemptorist Congregation, and was the first of its members professed in America, 16 January, 1842. For three years Neumann was superior of the Redemptorists at Pittsburgh, where he built the church of St. Philomena and by labors especially among the German-speaking people, won the gratitude and praise of Bishop O’Connor. In 1846, he was made vice-provincial of the Redemptorists in America, and in 1852 at the suggestion of Archbishop Kenrick of Baltimore. Pius IX gave Father Neumann a command under obedience to accept the Bishopric of Philadelphia, to which he was consecrated by Archbishop Kenrick at St. Alphonsus, Baltimore, 28 March, 1852. In his solicitude for his flock he visited the larger congregations of his diocese every year and the smaller ones every two years, remaining several days in the country places, preaching, hearing confessions, confirming, visiting, and anointing the sick. He once walked twenty-five miles and back to confirm one boy.
Indefatigable in the cause of education, both ecclesiastical and secular, he raised the standard of study and discipline at the diocesan seminary of St. Charles Borromeo, and founded (1859) an ecclesiastical preparatory college, to this day a credit and a blessing to the great diocese of Philadelphia. One of his first acts was to provide Catholic schools. At his consecration (1852) there were but two parochial schools in Philadelphia; at his death eight years later, their number was nearly one hundred. The boys he entrusted to the Christian Brothers, and the girls to different sisterhoods: St. Joseph, Charity, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Notre Dame of Namur and Notre Dame of Munich. These last he helped to establish firmly in the United States, and befriended in many ways. He introduced the Sisters of the Holy Cross from France to take charge of an industrial school. At the advice of Pius IX, he founded the Philadelphia branch of the sisters of St. Francis, and he was also the staunch friend of the Colored Oblate Sisters in Baltimore, whom by his tact and charity he saved from dissolution. In five years he erected fifty churches and completed the exterior of the cathedral. Conspicuous at the First Plenary Council of Baltimore (1852), he was one of the American bishops invited by Pius IX to Rome in 1854 for the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Noted for his devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, Neumann was the first American bishop to introduce the Forty Hours devotion into his diocese in 1853; he also inaugurated the practice now in vogue in many places of reciting the Litany of the Blessed Virgin and the Rosary before High Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. His remains lie interred in a vault before the altar in the lower chapel of St. Peter’s Redemptorist church, Philadelphia. Neumann left no published works except two catechisms of Christian Doctrine, which received the approbation of the First Plenary Council of Baltimore, a Bible history, confraternity manuals, a Latin pamphlet on the Forty Hours, and Acts of the synods held by him every two years. His pastoral letters are remarkable for their solidity, beauty, and unction.
(Adapted from Butler’s Lives of the Saints)