by Janet Gauger
Special to the CS&T
My family has a special connection to St. John Neumann, one that began over 150 years ago. The story of this special man touching our family has been told for generations. As a result, many of my McCoy relatives – aunts, uncles, and cousins – have a sincere devotion to the saint who touched our lives.
My grandmother, Margaret McCoy, made sure that we all learned the story of her father-in-law, William McCoy, and the experience that binds us to “our saint.”
William was born in Philadelphia in 1848. One Saturday afternoon, when William was a young boy, he went off to confession, as was the habit of many Catholics in those days. The priest saying confession was Philadelphia Bishop John Neumann. As the boy knelt in the confessional, there was a knock on the priest’s door, asking for his attention. Bishop Neumann told the boy to stay right there, that he would be back soon.
Hours passed, and the church became dark and quiet, but the boy knelt in the confessional as he was told, afraid to leave. As night fell and he still had not returned home, his parents became increasingly worried. Eventually they set off for the church, looking for their lost son. With great concern, they knocked on the door of the rectory and explained that their son was missing.
By then, Bishop Neumann was eating dinner, having returned from the deathbed of a parishioner. When he was told about the boy, he immediately remembered that he had left him in the church with the promise to return. The search party ran to the church, where they found young William obediently waiting for the priest. Bishop Neumann took him in his arms and delivered him to his grateful parents. As my grandmother always told us, “He was carried in the arms of a saint.”
William, my great-grandfather, went on to live a healthy and vibrant life to the age of 89. Today, generations of his descendents pray to St. John Neumann, the saintly man who touched our family and delivered one of us to safety. My uncle, Francis William McCoy, and his wife traveled to the Vatican for St. John Neumann’s beatification. Many of us have visited the shrine and pray to the saint for his intercession. His relic is a treasure for many of my relatives and carries us through illnesses and difficulties.
In such times, this is my prayer: “St. John Neumann, deliver us to safety, as you have done before. Amen.”
Janet Gauger is a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside.