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Philadelphia gets museum dedicated to patron saint of immigrants and sick children

St. John Neumann

National Shrine of St. John Neumann | Facebook | Fair Use

John Burger - published on 04/26/19

The life of St. John Neumann, America's first male saint, to be brought to life in new facility.

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The first English-language Catholic Bible printed in the United States is one of several items on display at a new Philadelphia museum dedicated to the life and times of St. John Neumann.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., will preside over the blessing and ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the grand opening of the newly constructed museum, which is sponsored by the Redemptorist order at the National Shrine of St. John Neumann.

The dedication will take place on Monday, April 29, at 10 a.m. It will kick off a week-long celebration that includes daily museum tours followed by cultural events each evening.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 2, there will be the launch of Kathleen Sprows Cummings’ new book A Saint of Our Own: How the Quest for a Holy Hero Helped Catholics Become American. That evening, Cummings will deliver a lecture titled “John Neumann: First Among American Saints.” Cummings is the director of Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism and an associate professor of American studies and history at the University of Notre Dame.

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

Desiring to live in a religious community that corresponded more to his missionary vocation, he entered the Redemptorists in January 1842. Founded in 1732 by St. Alphonsus Liguori, the Redemptorists came to the United States in 1832. Neumann became the first man in America to join the order.

For over 175 years, Redemptorists have staffed the church of St. Peter the Apostle and promoted the holiness of St. John Neumann.

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 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 noted, “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.”

Neumann’s body lies in repose in the lower church of St. Peter the Apostle. The shrine is visited annually by about 50,000 people from around the world, both Catholics and non-Catholics. Neumann is invoked as a patron of sick children and of immigrants.

The museum is part of a five-year renovation of the campus that comprises St. Peter the Apostle Parish, St. Peter the Apostle School, and the National Shrine of St. John Neumann. It will display objects important to Neumann’s life and ministry, and also guide visitors through some important moments in American Catholic history, placing Neumann’s missionary labors in context.

Among those items is the 1790 edition of the Mathew Carey Bible, the first English-language Catholic Bible printed in the United States.

The National Shrine of St. John Neumann is located at 1019 North 5th Street in Philadelphia.

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