Each afternoon, students at St. John Neumann Regional Catholic School pray for the intercession of two saints — St. John Neumann and St. Marguerite d’Youville.
This American saint was born in Bohemia on March 28, 1811. He attended school in Budweis and entered the seminary there in 1831. Two years later he transferred to the Charles Ferdinand University in Prague, where he studied theology, though he was also interested in astronomy and botany. He was looking forward to being ordained in 1835 when the bishop decided there would be no more ordinations.
It is difficult for us to imagine now, but Bohemia was overstocked with priests. John wrote to bishops all over Europe, but the story was the same everywhere – no one wanted any more bishops. John was sure he was called to be a priest, but all the doors to follow that vocation seemed to close in his face.
But John didn’t give up. He had learned English by working in a factory with English-speaking workers, so he wrote to the bishops in America. Finally, the bishop in New York agreed to ordain him. In order to follow God’s call to the priesthood, John would have to leave his home forever and travel across the ocean to a new and rugged land.
In New York, John was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. John’s parish in western New York stretched from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. His church had no steeple or floor, but that didn’t matter because John spent most of his time traveling from village to village, climbing mountains to visit the sick, staying in garrets and taverns to teach, and celebrating the Mass at kitchen tables.
Because of the work and the isolation of his parish, John longed for community and so joined the Redemptorists, a congregation of priests and brothers dedicated to helping the poor and most abandoned. The first priest to enter the Redemptorist Congregation in America, he took his vows in Baltimore on January 16, 1842. From the beginning, John was highly regarded by his fellow religious for his evident holiness, for his zeal and affability. His knowledge of six modern languages made him particularly acceptable for work in the multi-lingual American society of the nineteenth century. In 1847, after working in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, he was appointed Major Superior of the Redemptorists in the United States.
Father John Neumann was appointed the fourth bishop of Philadelphia on March 28, 1852. His diocese was a very large one going through a period of considerable development. He established and built so many new parishes within the diocese that one was completed almost every month. As bishop, he was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system. A founder of Catholic education in this country, he increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to 100. He also founded the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis to teach in the schools.
The ability to learn languages that had brought him to America led him to learn Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch so he could hear confessions in at least six languages. When Irish immigration started, he also learned Gaelic. This endeared him to the hundreds of new Catholic immigrants in the city of Philadelphia.
St. John Neumann was of small stature, never robust in health, but in his short lifetime he achieved a great deal. He even found time for a considerable literary activity in addition to his pastoral duties. He published two catechisms and in 1849 a Bible history for schools, as well as numerous articles in Catholic papers and periodicals.
He continued to be active right to the end. While running errands on January 5, 1860, he collapsed in a city street and died of a stroke before the last Sacraments could be administered. He was 48 years old.
Bishop John Neumann was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XV in 1921. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI on October 13, 1963, and canonized by him on June 19, 1977. January 5 is celebrated as his feast day. Following his canonization, the National Shrine of Saint John Neumann was constructed at the Parish of St. Peter the Apostle in Philadelphia. The remains of St. John Neumann rest under the main altar of the lower church within a glass-walled reliquary. From the day of his funeral to the present, people have come to honor this saint and to pray to him.
Prayer to St. John Neumann
Saint John Neumann, you helped organize Catholic education in the United States. Please watch over all Catholic schools and help them be a model of Christianity in their actions as well as their words. Amen.
Foundress of the Sisters of Charity, the Grey Nuns of Canada, St. Marguerite d’Youville was born at Varennes, Quebec, on October 15, 1701. She was the eldest of six children and when she was seven years old, her father died leaving the family in great poverty. Despite her family’s poverty, she was able to study for two years with the Ursulines in Quebec. Upon her return home, Marguerite became an invaluable support to her mother and undertook the education of her brothers and sisters.
She married Francois d’Youville in 1722, but soon came to realize that her husband had no interest in making a home life. His frequent absences and questionable transactions in the fur trade and illegal liquor trading caused her great suffering. When her husband became ill, Marguerite faithfully cared for him until his death in 1730. By age 29, she had experienced desperate poverty and suffered the loss of her husband and four of her six children. As she worked to support herself and educate her two sons, who later became priests, Marguerite experienced a religious renewal.
Marguerite undertook many charitable works with complete trust in God, whom she loved as a Father. In all these sufferings, she grew in her belief of God’s presence in her life and of His tender love for every human person. She, in turn, wanted to make known His compassionate love to all. Marguerite was soon joined by three young women who shared her love and concern for the poor. They founded a religious association in 1737 to provide a home for the poor in Montreal. By 1744, the association had become a religious order with a rule and a formal community. Marguerite, without even realizing it, became the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, the “Grey Nuns.”
She persevered in caring for the poor despite many obstacles. They were granted a charter to operate the General Hospital of Montreal in 1747, which by that time was in ruins and heavily in debt. Marguerite and her fellow workers brought the hospital back into financial security. Ten years later, she was appointed Director of the General Hospital in Montreal. In 1765, a fire destroyed the hospital, but nothing could destroy Marguerite’s faith and courage. At the age of 64, she undertook the reconstruction of this shelter for those in need.
Marguerite died in Montreal on December 23, 1771, and will always be remembered as a loving mother who served Jesus Christ in the poor. She broke with the social conventions of her time and continually fought for the rights of the most marginalized members of society. Her charism has transcended time, place, and culture for almost 300 years. Today, Grey Nuns can be found all over the world, continuing the legacy of love, compassion and service of Saint Marguerite d’Youville. Since her death, the Grey Nuns have established schools, hospitals, and orphanages throughout Canada, the United States, Africa, and South America, and are especially known for their work among the Eskimos.
Pope John XXIII beatified Marguerite on May 3, 1959, and called her “Mother of Universal Charity.” She was canonized by Pope John Paul II on December 9, 1990. She was the first native-born Canadian to be elevated to sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. Her feast day is October 16.
Under the direction of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, St. John Neumann Regional Catholic School was founded in 1986 by Sr. Dawn Gear and Sr. Rita Raffaele, both Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart. Today, the Grey Nun legacy is still alive at SJNRCS. Our school’s core values are a reflection of the values of the Grey Nuns, namely: FAITH, KNOWLEDGE, FAMILY, RESPECT, and SERVICE.
Prayer to St. Marguerite d’Youville
St. Marguerite, teach us to be signs of God’s love. Through your suffering, your faith was strengthened. You consecrated yourself to God through serving the poor. Saint Marguerite, help us to persevere in our time of need – to be patient, to grow in faith, through controversy, and to know, love and be obedient to God as you were. Mother of universal charity, help us to follow in your path of faith, love, and charity. Amen.