+J.M.J.St. John NeumannBorn — March 28 1811 in the Czech Republic in PrachatitzStudied for the priesthood at Budweis with the Piarist Fathers. Began there when he was twelve.He loved his studies and studied: History, Theology, Philosophy, Science. He knew most of the Old and New Testament by heart. He loved Scripture. Read incessantly and on a myriad of topics.He knew 8 languages at that time: German, Czech, Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, French, English.He planned on becoming a missionary in America, PhiladelphiaHe told his family that he declined an offer to be secretary for some Imperial Embassy. He explained that, “The Lord has His embassies too. Embassies in far away places — Overseas, That’s what I really want, to go to America as a missionary!” (18) His family was disappointed, but his mother said, “If it is God’s will to take you away from us, who are we to stand in your way? If God wants it, he will see to it that you get safely to America.”He ran into many troubles trying to get permission to leave from his superiors and from the government passport controllers.He was advised by an old friend, Fr. Dichtl, to turn to Our Lady whenever things seemed dark. And he did.Finally he was able to leave for America.It was hard for him to leave his family, and hard for his family to let him go, but they all made sacrifices for God’s will to be done.When John Neumann boarded the ship for America, he had no idea what he would do when he arrived. The bishop of Philadelphia had turned him down, so he wrote to the Bishop of New York. He waited in Paris for an answer, but when no answer came, he decided to board a ship for America and trust Our Lady to handle the rest.When he arrived he had maybe a dollar in his pocket. However, everything turned out alright. Bishop Dubois received him, ordained him, and assigned him to an area by the Niagara Falls that was populated by German Catholics. He landed in Rochester NY on July 4th 1836.He very rapidly began to preach to the German population and to say Mass for them and baptize them. However he was soon reassigned to Buffalo NY.There were many protestants in the area that John Neumann was assigned to. He had charge over 300 German families and some hundred more French and Irish families. No two families lived within a mile of each other and some of them lived fifty miles apart.Fr. Neumann arrived in Williamsville on July 14, 1836. In his journal he wrote, “Lord Jesus, my earthly desires are almost all fulfilled. Here I am in America, a priest and a missionary. Now I have a flock of my own.” (60)More than half of the population of Williamsville was methodist but 37 Catholic families still came to Mass that first Sunday he was there.The Church, St. Peters and Pauls, when he got there, was almost in ruins. It had no doors, roof, or windows.He also taught Catechism classes to the children and those who needed it. He planned latin classes and altar boy classes, and choir classes.Even in the hot summer, Father Neumann wore his “long black coat and his high leather boots” (74)He got his parishioners to help start rebuilding the ChurchSometimes he walked more than 40 miles a day. (77)People tried to lynch the priest. Once on the way to Cayuga Creek to bring the viaticum and last rites to a woman there, he had an attempt on his life. (79)Evil rumors were started about the holy young priest. So, he left the tavern he was staying in, the Perrywinkle, and went to live with a parishioner named John Schmitt. He did this to preclude further gossip and scandal.He walked a mile and a half each morning through the snow covered woods to say mass at the little log cabin church.He also had to battle the local protestant peddlers. They gave anti-Catholic books to the local peasants there. Fr. Neumann knew people who were weakening in their faith because of these books. He prepared his Sunday sermons even more carefully with this in mind. He threw the books he found into the fireplace.Revivals also started up again. But those were not Temptations for his flock. He wrote, “At the sight of what goes on, our Catholics are mightily strengthened in the Faith, for they plainly see before them the lesson learned in Catechism: that only the Catholic Church is one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.” (89)A rumor also started that Fr. Neumann had joined the Mennonites. When Hans Fleischer, a Catholic in name only, heard of this, he began to drunkenly confront Father Neumann. He yelled at the little priest to stop, but Father Neumann kept walking. Hans pulled out his bull whip and sliced the buckle off of the priest’s knapsack, but still the priest kept walking with his back towards the fellow. Father Neumann figured that if he was to die it may as well be in this manner, bringing the Viaticum to a sick woman. Hans then pulled out his pistol, fired two shots in the air, and once again yelled at the priest to stop or else he would put a bullet right through him. Once again, Father John Neumann did not stop but continued walking down the street. The gun did not go off. At that moment, as Hans Fleischer was about to murder the priest, he tripped on a rotten plank in the middle of the street and fell on his face. He fell into a drunken sleep. When the rumor that Father Neumann had become a heretic reached the Catholic rectory in Buffalo, NY, Father Pax laughed aloud. He already knew the true story. What had happened was that Father Neumann had gone to the meetings house with Mennonite deacon John Reist. This mennonite tried to convince Father Neumann of the foolishness of the Catholic religion. They quoted scriptures and tried to win him over. However, Father neumann soon began asking seemingly innocent questions, weakening the foundations of their belief. Soon the whole meeting was in confusion. They had not been expecting this small priest to know the bible so well. They then asked him if he would be willing to debate some of their elders in a public debate. Father John Neumann had agreed. That is why he had written to Father Pax. Father Pax came to meet with Father Neumann and asked if it would be safer if the two of them joined forces in the debate. Father Neumann replied, “With the help of our blessed Lady, who crushes all heresy, I’ll manage this battle single-handed”. (92) There were many people there to attend the debate. There were about 40 people crammed into the small room. After the mennonites spoke their part, Father Neumann stood up, bowed to the owner of the house, Jonathan Eggert, who was also the judge of the debate, and said, “Gentlemen, I said it last Sunday and I repeat it now. I am open to honest conviction. I will join your Church — if you can prove to the judicial satisfaction of Mr. Eggert here that your creed is worthy of belief.” (93)When they had finished, Father Neumann stood up again and began to cross-question them. He asked them on whose authority they held their religion to be true. When they responded that they held their religion to be true on the authority of God, he asked them if they believed that God had written the bible. They responded, “Yes: God the Holy Spirit” At that, Father Neumann asked them, “Did God write the Bible in English as well as German?” (94) When they replied in the affirmative, he said, “Very well. Since your Bible has God, the Holy Spirit, for Author, what he says in your bible , he must likewise say in each and every bible in this room. God cannot contradict himself.” At that, he asked different people to open their bible to a specific chapter and verse in a certain book of the bible. The phrases each man read clearly contradicted the other man’s bible. At that, Fr. Neumann asked, “If your neighbor’s version does not agree with your own, how can you be so certain that God is the author? How do you know that your bible is right?” If this debate had not brought many more people to the Catholic Church, it at least stopped the Catholics from leaving the Church.THe towns people either loved him or hated him. There was one man, Rudy Elfenbein, who received a monstrance from Munich sent specifically for the Church, that he would not part with or admit he had.THere was to be a patronal feast for the parishes of WIlliamsville and North Bush in June. Fr. neumann said that all the festivities were in order, but, he said, “there is to be no drinking; no dancing…or I shall pack up and leave North Bush.” He almost kept his word, but that the North Bush people soon repented. On St. John’s Day, the alcohol was flowing from, namely, the tap of Rudy Elfenbein, and he was planning a dance as well. As they were having a jovial time, someone noticed Fr. neumann’s wagon loaded up and standing at the rectory door preparing to depart for good. THe towns people rushed to apologize to him and to beg him to stay. He looked at them gravely and said, “I will remain here, but go home and pray, lest God punish you for desecrating the feastday of his saints” That same evening, the town of North Bush, and only that town, was struck by a swarm of locusts which devoured the farmers plants. They clearly saw that this was a sign from God to change their ways and to attend Mass more often.In September of that same year, 1839, Fr. Neumann came home to his rectory to find his younger brother, Wenzl there. He had come to America to help his brother in his missions. Fr. Neumann told him that he could be sexton, housekeeper, and, much to Wenzl’s surprise, teacher at the school. (117)Fr. Neumann also acted as a doctor since there was not a doctor in the town. He knew many different plants and herbs and what they could do. He healed many poor sick people in need. However, he did not take so good of care as his own health.In October of 1840, Fr. Neumann left North Bush in order to go join the Redemptorists. He felt like he could not live alone anymore, as it was not the way it should be. He needed the advice and companionship of his brother priests. He was on his way to Pittsburgh to join the Redemptorists as a novice. On the First Sunday of Advent of that same year, Fr. Prost, the superior of the Redemptorists, invested Fr. Neumann in the novice’s habit of the order. Wenzl had come down to Pittsburgh to witness his brother’s investiture, and he was also determined to remain with and join the Redemptorist community. He suffered many trials in order to join their community. He began having a longing to go back to North Bush, but he quickly rushed to the feet of Our Lady to beg her to rid him of these doubts.Fr. Neumann began to be sent around to many different places to help with Church work.He was sent by Fr. Prost to Baltimore, but, within a week of his arrival in Baltimore, he was sent to Rochester . Then, he was sent to Manhattan to the Church where he had said his first Mass.After many arduous trials, such as being moved around so he could not complete his novitiate, and having doubts as to his vocation, Fr. John Neumann persevered and finally made his vows and was received into the Redemptorist order on January 16, 1842.Father John and Father Joseph Fey were the only two priests occupying St. Joseph’s Church at that time. They were taking care of many people, mostly immigrants, and they were helping them with all sorts of troubles. Father John was the one who mainly helped the sick or dying. He told the porter not to wake up Father Fey since, as he said, “I’m a light sleeper anyway”. (137)More religious and priests began to come to reside at St. James’. However, in March, 1844, Father Neumann found a slip of paper signed by the superior of the order there that read, “You will report at once to Pittsburgh as superior” He was astonished and somewhat disheartened. He did not feel that he was worthy, or responsible enough for this task. He did not feel qualified for this job. However,after much prayer and much debating with himself, he resigned himself to the will of his superior. He saw that the will of his superior is the will of GodFr Neumann was superior of the Redemptorists in Pittsburgh, but he was also the youngest.He also had to worry about the workers who were building St. Philomena’s church. He had to pay them, as well as for supplies to build the Church. As always, providence supplied. His parishioners began donating money to the building fund. They gave Father Neumann their life’s savings to borrow and use as he saw fit, as long as they could sometime get it back. They saw their money as being safer with the priest than with the bank. They knew that he would be temperate with their money and not foolhardy.At that time, and anti-Catholic sentiment was spreading through American circles. Pamphlets and leaflets were distributed carrying anti-Catholic messages that spoke against the Pope and Rome, and they disrespected the “papists” and their “papistry”. They slandered the priests, said they hated the printed word of God, simply because Father Mueller one of the Redemptorist priests went around burning the heretical bibles that the anti-Catholic peddlers were giving to Catholic families who did not know any better.Some of the priests of St. Philomena’s were physically threatened by leaders of this anti-Catholic movement. Father Franz Seelos was almost pushed overboard off of a boat, and Fr. Mueller was waylaid coming back at night more than once.In order to fight against this anti-Catholic movement, Fr. Neumann began planning a Catechism booklet for the children as well as for the grown Catholic men and women.