Saints of Christmas: John Neumann


Born 1811 in what's now the Czech Republic, he was expert in the natural sciences and spoke 8 languages. But his bishop fell ill and never got around to ordaining him (there was a priest glut so it wasn't high priority!) So he walked to France to board the Europa and came to New York in 1836. The bishop on this side of the big pond ordained him two weeks later, and he was known for his work among primarily German-speaking immigrants who were clearing forests around Niagara Falls at the time. He lived among them in a log cabin he built himself. He lived largely on bread and water, hardly heated his home, and spent a lot of time walking from farm to farm to reach his people. He taught himself Gaelic and English to be able to work with everyone (he spoke 12 languages by the time he died).

He joined the Redemptorists, was named bishop of Philly, and while there built more than 100 schools and increased the number of kids in parochial schools from about 500 to nearly 10,000. He died suddenly of stroke while walking home from an appointment: on this day in 1860. At his request he was buried at St. Peter's Church to be with his fellow Redemptorists. Almost immediately his grave was a place of pilgrimage and a succession of miracles occuring there led to his canonization.