Walking in the Steps of St. John Neumann in Pennsylvania

On September 25, 2013, the pilgrim icon visited the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church (more commonly known as St. Mary’s) in York, PA founded by St. John Neumann

St. John Neumann  was a Czech immigrant who left his native Bohemia to become a priest.  Neumann had completed his seminary studies, but his bishop was not ordaining any more priests, for the time being, because he had so many priests.   Neumann sought a bishop all over Europe, but the story was always the same.  Bishops did not need more priests. 

He learned English and wrote to bishops in America after reading stories about the American missions by Bishop Frederic BaragaBishop John Dubois of New York agreed to ordain the future saint. So he wrote a letter to his parents bidding them farewell and assuring them that what he was about to do would bring eternal blessings upon both he and them.

After he was ordained, he was sent to care for German immigrants in the Niagara Falls, NY area.  He once collapsed from exhaustion in the woods and was saved by Native Americans who recognized him as a “Black Robe” – a term they used to refer to priests.  Neumann longed for a community life, and so he joined a Redemptorist congregation in Pittsburgh, PA. The Redemptorist priests and brothers were dedicated to serving the poor and the most abandoned.  He quickly rose to the position of provincial superior and came to the attention of Archbishop Kenrick of Baltimore. 

In 1852, he was chosen by Pope Pius IX to become the fourth bishop of Philadelphia. He felt unworthy and tried to convince the Pope to choose someone else, but he accepted and was very popular with the poor and immigrants, although the rich, elite rejected him.  Neumann was such a master of languages that he could hear confessions in six languages.  When he heard her confession in Gaelic, an Irish woman exclaimed "Isn't it grand that we have an Irish bishop!"  

Neumann organized the first diocesan-wide Catholic school system.  He increased the number of Catholic schools from 2 to 100 in his diocese.   He started the Forty Hours Devotion and fought against the anti-Catholic Know Nothings who burned Catholic schools and churches.  He visited every church and mission in his diocese every year.  St, John Neumann died of a stroke on the streets of Philadelphia on January 5, 1860, at the age of 48.

After a brief stop at the Human Life International headquarters in Front Royal, VA to get resupplied, the pilgrim icon was brought to St. Mary’s  which St. John Neumann founded for German speaking immigrants.  St. Mary’s still serves immigrants today.   Mass in the evening on September 25th was in Spanish.  Almost a hundred people came out to venerate the icon.  Fr. Jonathan Sawicki spoke about the importance of devotion to Our Lady and defending life.  Fr. Paul Schenck, a great pro-life activist, recommended Fr. Sawicki and the parish of St. Mary’s for a visit of the icon.

The next day, the icon was brought to the chapel of Berks Catholic High School.   The icon has also gone to Chelsea Academy in Front Royal, VA and St. Thomas More Academy in Magnolia, Delaware.  At Berks a presentation was made to juniors and seniors on icons, Our Lady of Czestochowa and the defense of life and marriage as a union between one man and one woman.  On Thursday evening, Fr. Peter West offered the Mass and preached to about a hundred people who came out to venerate the icon.  In his travels through Philadelphia and York, Pennsylvania, Fr. West felt like he was walking in the footsteps of St. John Neumann!

Our Lady of Czestochowa and St. John Neumann pray for us and the State of Pennsylvania that its laws and customs will reflect a culture of life!

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