It really was appropriate. When Archbishop Charles Chaput and Cardinal Justin Rigali accompanied Archbishop Dominik Duka of Prague to the shrine of his countryman, St. John Neumann, on Sept. 22, the first stop was at adjacent St. Peter the Apostle School, because Philadelphia’s first saint is considered a father of Catholic education in light of the many schools founded while he was bishop. There the children enthusiastically welcomed the visitors.
“The school is vibrant and full of life, and it is great to experience their enthusiasm,” Archbishop Chaput remarked.
As Archbishop of Prague, Archbishop Duka is the metropolitan for Budweis, the birth diocese of St. John Neumann, but all of the Czech Republic is proud to have nurtured Philadelphia’s first saint.
Afterward, in the shrine itself, after a pause for silent prayer, Redemptorist Father Alfred Bradley presented Archbishop Duka with a framed portrait of St. John Neumann.
“We thought you might have one or two of these in your archdiocese, but this one is from the Shrine of St. John Neumann,” he said. He also gave the two archbishops a first-class relic of the saint.
“At the tomb of holy John Nepomucene Neumann I pray for our country and for the United States of America,” Archbishop Duka said in brief remarks. “And also I pray for the Church in my country and for vocations in the Czech Republic.”
Cardinal Rigali explained to Archbishop Duka that some of the most important relics and features of the shrine, especially the remains of the saint visible through glass under the altar. The Cardinal himself oversaw the 2007 rehabilitation at which time a lifelike mask executed by famed forensic sculptor Frank Bender was placed on the head and vestments appropriate to the mid-19th century were placed on the effigy that contains the saints’ remains, but with one deviation— the miter.
“I was ordained a bishop in that miter,” Cardinal Rigali said. “Pope John Paul II put it on my head.”
As for the visit of the Archbishop of Prague, “we are receiving another gift from the Czech Republic,” Archbishop Chaput said. “First of course is the gift of St. John Neumann himself, but the bishop who represents that diocese is here to show their love for St. John Neumann but also respect for this diocese that received him. It’s an act of friendship and an act of faith that brings us together; faith in St. John Neumann himself and the friendship which brings us together.”
After the visit to St. Peter the Apostle School and the Shrine of St. John Neumann, Archbishop Chaput and Cardinal Rigali accompanied Archbishop Duka on a tour of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.