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175 Flashback: St. John Neumann helped establish Buffalo Diocese

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St. John Neumann is the first, and so far, only male U.S. citizen to be named a saint. He served in Buffalo from 1836-1840.

St. John Neumann

Born March 29, 1811, in what is now the Czech Republic, the studious child entered the seminary at the age of 20. Desiring to be a missionary, he traveled to the United States in 1836, arriving in New York City. He was ordained in St. Patrick’s Cathedral 17 days after arriving. He was quickly assigned to minster to the German immigrants in Buffalo.

Given the choice of working in the city or the country, Father Neumann chose the country and traveled to Williamsville to celebrate the first Mass at SS. Peter & Paul Parish while the church was still under construction. He established a school there and taught four hours a day.

His fondness for education would lead him to establish the first diocesan Catholic school system while serving in Philadelphia. A high school named for him in Williamsville closed in 1980.

In the fall of 1937, he moved to North Bush (now Kenmore) and St. John the Baptist Parish. Ever the missionary, he would travel to the outlying districts of Eden, Java, Batavia, Swormville, Tonawanda and Pendleton often by foot or canoe.

After just four years in Western New York, Father Neumann left to joined the Redemptorists.

The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer had been founded in Naples, Italy in 1732. The first missionaries came to Pittsburgh in 1839. They had grown to have three more foundations in Baltimore, Rochester, and Norwalk, Ohio.

Father Neumann took his religious vows as a member of the congregation in Baltimore, in January 1842. After six years, he became provincial superior of the United States.

On Feb. 5, 1852, he was consecrated as bishop of Philadelphia. He returned to Buffalo in 1854 to give two retreats. His final contribution to Buffalo would be receiving the vows of three sisters who would form the order of St. Francis of the Third Order Regular (now the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities) based in Williamsville.

He died Jan. 5, 1860 in Philadelphia. 

Pope Paul VI beatified him in 1963, then 14 years later on June 1977, declared him a saint.

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