John Neumann was born in Bohemia to Czech and German parents. Though he wished to study for the priesthood, his local diocese already had a surfeit of priests. Consequently, he departed for America, where he was accepted at a seminary in New York and was ordained in 1836. With a special gift for languages, he was well suited for work among the various immigrant populations. After some years working with German immigrants in the Rochester area, he applied to join the newly arrived Redemptorist missionary order, whose novitiate was in Pittsburgh. There he would remain for eight years, eventually becoming the Redemptorist Provincial for North America.
In 1852, four years after becoming a naturalized citizen, Neumann was named the fourth bishop of Philadelphia. Among his principal accomplishments was the establishment of a thriving network of parochial schools—the first in the country. He also completed construction of a cathedral, founded a congregation of teaching sisters, and introduced the Forty Hours Devotion to America. Exhausted by his labors, he collapsed and died on January 5, 1860. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1977.
“Everyone who breathes . . . has a mission, has a work. We are not sent into this world for nothing; we are not born at random. . . . God sees every one of us; He creates every soul . . . for a purpose. As Christ has His work, we too have ours; as He rejoiced to do His work, we must rejoice in ours also.”
—St. John Neumann