Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Family Visits Over Christmas - Remembering St. John Neuman

Christmas Family Gatherings in the Montreal Area

Over Christmas Week, I had the wonderful opportunity of visiting with family members in the Montreal area on two different occasions.  There was good food and banter, as well as the chance to meet family friends.

Many thanks to Renee Prendergast and Sonia Struthers for their great gifts of hospitality. It was a time to play with nieces and nephews (younger and older), to eat mincemeat pie and admire gingerbread housing.

John, Clara, Paul and Sonia; Happy Ninth Birthday today, Clara!

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The Holy Bishop of Philadelphia

His feast day is not observed in Canada (except among Redemptorists, his religious community) but is an obligatory memorial today in the United States. 

Since visiting the church shrine which honours his relics at Easter 2009, I find his story illustrates the remarkable dedication of our forebears in the faith who brought their love of Christ and his Church to North America.

[BTW, one on his successors in Philadelphia (1911-1918) was an Archbishop Edmond Francis Prendergast-- no relation--at 6'6 inches he belonged to a different gene pool!]

John Neumann was born in Prachatice in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) on March 28, 1811. He studied theology in the seminary of Budweis. Zealous for the missionary life and to lead souls to Christ, he decided to leave his homeland to dedicate himself to the European immigrants in America, who were deprived of spiritual support.

Neumann was ordained a priest by the bishop of New York in June 1836, and gave himself to the pastoral care of people in the vast area around Niagara Falls.

Wanting to live in a religious community that corresponded more to his missionary vocation, in January 1842 he entered the Redemptorists. A tireless missionary, Neumann busied himself in particular with the German immigrants, first in Baltimore, then in Pittsburgh.

Having filled the role of vice-provincial superior of the Redemptorists from 1846-49, he became the parish priest of St. Alphonsus Church in Baltimore. In 1852, at the age of 41, he was named bishop of Philadelphia.

Neumann had a strong effect on the religious life of the United States by founding Catholic schools and promoting devotion to the Eucharist. He founded a new religious institute — the Third Order of Saint Francis of Glen Riddle.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame likewise regard Neumann as their secondary founder, their "Father in America." In just seven years, he built 89 churches, as well as several hospitals and orphanages. As a bishop, Neumann was untiring in visiting his vast diocese.

On January 5, 1860, at the age of 49, he died suddenly of a heart attack on a Philadelphia street. Neumann was beatified during the Second Vatican Council on October 13, 1963 and was canonized on June 19, 1977.

In the homily on the occasion of Neumann's canonization, Pope Paul VI summarized the activity of the new saint: "He was close to the sick, he loved to be with the poor, he was a friend of sinners, and now he is the glory of all emigrants."

St. John Neumann is invoked as a patron of sick children and of immigrants.

Almighty God, who called Saint John Neumann to a life of service, zeal and compassion for the guidance of your people in the new world; by his prayers help us to build up the community of the Church through our dedication to the Christian education of youth and through the witness of our brotherly love. Through our Lord.

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Prayer for Wednesday after the Epiphany

O God, who through your Son raised up your eternal light for all nations, grant that your people may come to acknowledge the full splendour of their Redeemer, and that, bathed ever more in his radiance, they may reach ever-living glory.  Through our Lord.

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