Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Saint John Neumann

John Neumann was born in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. He was a quiet, small boy, only five feet, two inches tall but his eyes were very kind and he smiled a lot. His parents were Philip who was a German and Agnes Neumann and he had four sisters and a brother.

He was an excellent student, who was drawn to the religious life when he was quite young. After college, John entered the seminary. When time came for ordination, the bishop was sick. The date was never set because Bohemia had enough priests at the time.

Since he had been reading about missionary activities in the United States, John decided to go to America to ask for ordination. He walked most of the way to France and then boarded a ship for America.

John arrived in Manhattan on June 9, 1836 without informing anyone that he was coming. Bishop John Dubois was very happy to see him as there were only thirty-six priests for the two hundred thousand Catholics living in the state of New York and part of New Jersey.

Just sixteen days after his arrival, John was ordained a priest and sent to Buffalo. There he helped Father Pax care for his parish. Father Pax asked him to choose between working in the city of Buffalo or the country area. John's strong character began to show when he chose the most difficult - the country area.

He decided to stay in a little town with an unfinished church. Once it was completed, he moved to another town that had a log-church. There he built himself a small log cabin. He hardly ever lit a fire and often lived on bread and water and only slept a few hours each night.
The farms in his area were far apart. John had to walk long distances to reach his people. They were German, French, Irish and Scotch. But John who knew twelve languages, worked with them all.

John joined the Redemptorist order and continued his missionary work. He became bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. Bishop Neumann built fifty churches and began building a cathedral. He opened almost one hundred schools, and the number of parochial school students grew from five hundred to nine thousand.

Bishop Neumann's health never improved much, but people were still very surprised when he died suddenly on January 5, 1860 when he was just forty-eight years old.

He was the first American man and first American bishop to be declared a saint by Pope Paul VI on June 19, 1977. His feast day is January 5th.

We might not be as smart, strong, or active as we would like to be. But that doesn't stop God from loving us and from using us to do wonderful things. When we have to do something difficult, we can ask Saint John Neumann's help.

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Saint Augustine was born in Tagaste in modern Algeria. This famous son of Saint Monica spent many years living a wicked life and in false beliefs. He was one of the most intelligent persons who ever lived.

Augustine was brought up in a Christian atmosphere by his mother. He became so proud and bad that in the end he could not see or understand holy truths anymore. His mother Monica prayed daily for her son's conversion. The marvelous sermons of Saint Ambrose made their impact too. Finally, Augustine became convinced that Christianity was the true religion.

Yet he did not become a Christian then, because he thought he could never live a pure life. One day, he heard about two men who had suddenly changed and became good Christians after reading the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert.

Augustine felt ashamed. "What are we doing?" he cried to his friend Alipius. "Unlearned people are taking heaven by force. Yet we, with all our knowledge, are so weak that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!" Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine went into the garden and prayed, "How much longer, Lord? Why don't I stop committing sins now?" Just then he heard a child singing, "Take up and read!"

Thinking that God wanted him to hear those words, he picked up the Bible and opened it. His eyes fell on Saint Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 13. It was just what Augustine needed. Paul says to stop living bad lives and to live like Jesus. That did it! From then on, Augustine began a new life.

He was baptized and ordained a priest and later became a bishop. He was a famous Catholic writer and started the Augustinian order. He became one of the greatest Saints who ever lived.
On the wall of his room, he had the following sentence written in large letters: "Here we do not speak evil of anyone." Saint Augustine corrected strong false teachings, lived a simple life and cared for the poor.

He preached very often, and prayed with great feeling right up until his death. "Too late have I loved you," he once cried to God. "Our hearts were made for You, Lord, and they are restless until they rest in You."

Augustine spent the rest of his life in loving God and leading others to love him, too.

Lord, renew in Your Church the spirit which You inspired in Saint Augustine, Your Bishop. Filled by this spirit, may we thirst after You as the true Source of wisdom.