Our Patron Saint
St. John Neumann was known as “The Little Bishop” because he stood only five feet, two inches tall. Despite his diminutive stature, the Little Bishop’s contributions were enormous.
When he arrived in New York City in 1836 from Bohemia, John Neumann was just another immigrant with no money and no contacts. However, he possessed a vocation to be a missionary to his fellow German Catholics that was so strong that he had left his homeland after theological studies without waiting to be ordained. Fortunately, the Bishop of New York was in short supply of German- speaking priests. He promptly ordained John Neumann and sent him to western New York to serve immigrant parishes. John Neumann worked for several years as a missionary in rural New York, and eventually joined the Redemptorist Order. He served as a parish priest for the Redemptorists in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. In Baltimore, John Neumann met Bishop Kenrick, who recommended to Pope Leo X, over John Neumann’s objections, that this Redemptorist succeed him as Bishop of Philadelphia.
John Neumann served as the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia from 1852 to 1860. During his tenure, John Neumann organized the first Diocesan school system, which serves as the model for Catholic education in America to this day. The new schools used to the Baltimore Catechism which John Neumann had written and which became a standard text. He also initiated the tremendous expansion of the Philadelphia Diocese at a time when anti-Catholic prejudice was prevalent. During his eight years as Bishop, eighty parishes were founded and thirty four plus schools built, sometimes opening at the rate of one per month. John Neumann also initiated the weekly practice of Forty Hours Devotion.
John Neumann died at the age of 48, suffering a fatal stroke while walking down Vine Street in Philadelphia. His body is entombed at St. Peter’s Church at 5th and Girard Avenue, a Redemptorist parish where St. John attended weekly confession as Bishop. In 1963, Pope Paul VI beatified John Neumann after two miraculous cures were attributed to his intervention. Beatification permitted the public worship of John Neumann, and so our parish could take the name of Blessed John Neumann. The last step toward sainthood began about the time our parish came into existence. Michael Flanigan was six years old when doctors discovered he had bone cancer. The late Dr. William MacNamee, a former parishioner and Lector at Mass, was Michael’s orthopedic surgeon. The cancer was Metastatic Ewings Sarcoma, a disease with no known cure, and which was always fatal. Dr. MacNamee recommended surgery to attempt to save his life. However, the boy’s mother resisted, so the doctors gave the boy a less radical treatment. At the same time, Mrs. Flanigan began saying novenas to John Neumann. Within two years, the disease disappeared. According to Dr. MacNamee, this “cure” outcome was unexplainable by normal means.
The Sacred Congregation certified the cure as the miracle attributable to Bishop John Neumann, and recommended that he be enrolled as a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church. On November 13, 1976, Pope Paul VI decreed the appointment of Bishop John Neumann as the first American male Saint. On June 19, 1977, Philadelphia’s “Little Bishop” was canonized Saint John Neumann.