Archbishop Charles Chaput celebrated the feast day Mass Jan. 5 in honor of his most distinguished predecessor as Bishop of Philadelphia, St. John Nepomucene Neumann, at St. Peter the Apostle Church on Girard Avenue, where the remains of Philadelphia’s fourth bishop are venerated.
Assisting at the packed Mass was Father Paul Borowski, provincial superior for the Baltimore Province of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), along with many of his Redemptorists confreres. St. John Neumann was also a Redemptorist and a former provincial.
In his homily Archbishop Chaput, a descendant of the first Americans, the Native Americans, said, “St. John Neumann came to us from Bohemia.” Because “the church of the United States is a church of immigrants and the United States is a country of immigrants,” it is important for us to be receptive to immigrants, and “we need to pray for justice on the issue of immigration.”
Taking his cue from the readings of the day, Archbishop Chaput said St. John Neumann models for bishops and priests what it means to be a good shepherd and part of being a shepherd means going out to people in need.
St. Peter the Apostle Church has been a place of veneration for St. John Neumann since his sudden death on Jan. 5, 1860. From its foundation the parish was ministered by Redemptorist priests, and because other members of the congregation were buried in the undercroft of the church it was his wish to be buried there also.
Immediately after his burial Philadelphia Catholics began to visit to pray at his grave and to ask for his intercession. It is largely due to this persistent cult (which is not a negative term in this sense) that ultimately a cause for his canonization was opened.
It came to fruition on June 19, 1977, when Pope Paul VI entered John Neumann’s name into the canon of saints. It is technically incorrect to say Pope Paul made him a saint; the pontiff simply confirmed his sainthood. That is why St. John Neumann’s feast day is Jan. 5, the date the church believes he entered the Kingdom of Heaven in 1860.