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Who was the first American man to be canonized?

This gifted bishop was the first to do quite a few things in the United States…

…which is impressive considering he was only twenty-five when he got here and died at age forty-eight.

Originally from Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic), John Neumann studied for the priesthood in his home country before responding to a call to mission work in America. He was bright and gifted, and during his life learned at least eight modern languages in addition to three ancient ones.

In 1836, he was ordained for the diocese of New York, which badly needed German-speaking priests to serve the large Catholic immigrant population. He served his first years as a priest in the Niagara Falls area. Covering a huge swath of unforgiving and sometimes frigid terrain, he dedicated himself tirelessly to his parishioners, traveling from village to village to care for the Catholic settlers.

Drawn to the community life and charism of the Redemptorists, he joined them in 1842 and was the first Redemptorist to profess vows in the United States.

After serving in some leadership roles for his order, Fr. Neumann was appointed Bishop of the enormous Philadelphia diocese. As Bishop, he organized the first diocesan Catholic school system in the country, vastly increased the number of schools, and built many, many churches.

Throughout it all, he maintained a profound spirit of humility, simplicity, and poverty, and an inexhaustible love for the souls under his care.

He died of a heart attack in Philadelphia in 1860 and was canonized in 1977. He is the first male American and the first American bishop to become a saint.

In Baltimore, you can visit the National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Liguori, where St. John Neumann served as pastor and was consecrated bishop.

Today’s feast day of St. John Neumann follows that of another great American saint—St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American citizen to achieve sainthood. We should entrust our country continually to their prayers, since they dedicated themselves to the salvation of American souls while on earth, and now they continue their prayers in Heaven. You can call to mind our American saints each time you pour your morning coffee with our exclusive Battle Hymn mug, featuring an artful watercolor design of the American flag and a snippet of lyrics from the Battle Hymn of the Republic: As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free. Order yours today!

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